Friday, January 15, 2010

Disclose source code now!

What makes the coming May elections interesting is its unwitting attempt to follow plots of fiction movies.
The May elections remind me of the notoriously controversial fantasy film "The Da Vinci Code".
In that movie, it was suggested that the famous works-of-art of Leonardo Da Vinci contained cryptic codes, which became the subject of analysis by a Harvard symbologist (character played by Tom Hanks).
In the movie, viewers are led to to a series of decoding of "hidden" codes purportedly left behind by Da Vinci in his works.
But that is fantasy.
Yet reality---I learn--- is not too far away.
In the coming May elections, there are also a set of "codes" which the Commssion on elections is keeping secret from the public.
The operation of election counting machines is controlled by what is called a "source code".
What is baffling is that the commission on elections is apparently leaving the Filipino public to play the role of a symbologist, in order to decipher the source code, and find out how the election machines will function in May.
Many are wondering why up to this time the commission on elections still refuses to reveal this “source code” of the election machines to the public, even as this is mandated by law.
Comelec’s refusal to publicize the source code of the election machines is casting a dark cloud on the integrity of the process and results of the coming May elections.

What is this “source code”?

This is a new legal term in the election law which many lawyers, including myself, are even unfamiliar with.
This is because the phrase “source code” is an IT terminology.
The law defines a “source code” as: “human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do
An analogy advanced by IT experts to understand a source code is a food recipe.
A recipe is to food preparation, as a source code is to automated elections.
A recipe contains specific, step-by-step , chronological instructions on how to prepare a particular food from start to finish product.
If you want to know the step-by-step process in preparing a particular food, then an IT expert similarly wants to know the step-by-step process in the operation of the election machines.
There are at least thirty IT groups and institutions, including Ateneo, La Salle, UP who are volunteering for free to review the source code for the election machines, to ensure the integrity of the election process.
The problem is that time is running out.
It would take at least two months to be able to review the source code from start to finish.
To review a source code, an IT expert says, they would have to read literally millions of "human-readable" lines and characters of instructions or commands.
Until now the Comelec still refuses to reveal to the public the source code or the specific instructions of the election machines.
Republic Act 9369, the new election law which specifically mandates transparency in the electoral process, states in Section 12:
"Once an AES [Automated Election System] technology is selected for implementation, the Commission shall promptly make the source code of that technology available and open to any interested political party or groups which may conduct their own review thereof."
The law is very clear.
The AES has long been selected.
It has long been the duty of the Comelec to PROMPTLY reveal the source code (the instructions for the machines) to anyone capable of making a review thereof.
As a member of the voting public, it is to our interest to know exactly how these machines work, and how it counts, and how it comes up with the results.
This is very important.
We don’t just place our ballots to the machines, and then sing hallelujah, and accept as gospel truth what the machines will report.
We want to know HOW IT WORKS, HOW IT COUNTS.
This is precisely the reason why the law commands the Comelec to reveal the source code.
Without the source code revealed, are we the electorate to remain ignorant as to precisely how the election process will work?
Are we going to again cast a blind trust on the agency who will administer the elections?
God help us.

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