A public portal used by citizens for passport applications (passport.gov.ph) suddenly becomes unsecure due to an expired SSL certificate and no one can do anything about it because, bureaucracy.
Last May 12, 2017, the SSL certificate of the Passport Portal of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) here in the Philippines expired. I noticed this Thursday evening, of May 18 while I was about to end my day of work online. That was already six days after the SSL expired.
Now before I go head on and rant about this entire fiasco, let me talk about something else first. Potholes and roadkill.
Whenever I go through a particular route going to work, I encounter potholes that I’d come to recognize by feel. They’re a familiar sequence of bumps that you’d know and expect to be there as it usually takes weeks or months before someone from the city (or someone from public works) manages to fill that hole with gravel and asphalt.
Those are potholes. It takes a few hours to fill them up but it is usually low on the priorities of cities here and in probably everywhere around the world. If it takes a few weeks to several months, it’s still forgivable. As my Russian friend would say, Ni Pukha, ni Pyera, comrade.
What about roadkill? Remember that dead Racoon (#deadRacoonTO) in Toronto that made Twitter headlines almost exactly two years ago? It took the city almost overnight to get the dead animal off the sidewalk and it lay there for an entire day for everyone’s amusement on social media. That was cute. Canadians warmed up and did what Canadians do.
Here in Manila, roadkill will eventually fossilize and blend in with the pavement. It is our own little Manileño way of giving back to future generations of Filipino archaeologists. No one raises a fuss about roadkill here, or maybe for as long as the carcass is no larger than a dog.
So what am I driving at exactly?
An expired SSL certificate might sound so techie, but is actually much simpler and faster to renew than to fill up a simple pothole or remove roadkill. Letting it stay expired for more than ten days, is not fun. It’s downright depressing. The situation is made worse that just recently, millions have been infected globally and was subjected to what the tech industry calls ransomware. Add to that the humiliation that our country got from the tech community when #COMELEAK happened and exposed, not only our citizen’s personal data, but also how much of a sorry ass job the commission did with their database management. Look it up, I’m too embarrassed to provide the link to the analysis of the leaked COMELEC data here.
This is a very serious breach of security as all of us citizens at some point may have to transact through this portal. Not having an up-to-date SSL certificate means, our traffic is not entirely secure. Our private information as citizens of a Republic that has its own set of data privacy laws, is once again put to the test. COMELEC has yet to own up to their mistakes too.
I am appalled that a typical bureaucrat would rather spend their hard-earned, weekend than fix something as basic as this. They would resort to finger pointing between vendors and subcontractors or on whoever is not around that they can pin the blame on. And we still end up with an expired SSL certificate, for an entire 12 days. That’s short of two days to make it into two weeks of inaction.
Do realize that there are a lot of nameless heroes within government agencies who are technically capable but remains powerless to do anything about the matter. Not everyone inside government can simply use their card and expect being reimbursed. Blame it on how bureaucracy works.
Nothing political about trolling the government.
This shouldn’t be about politics either, sitting executives and administrations may come and go, but the real flaw here is in the Terms of Reference, the contract and the nuances of procurement. Think about it. How could a government-owned printing company, APO Production Unit (it says there on the SSL details), manage to get the development and maintenance (or non-maintenance) of a public portal? A job that would normally have to go to a proper technology firm who had the competency for the task.
Now don’t get me wrong, APO Production unit is well-capable to produce passports and secure documents as they compete with another gov’t-owned printer, the National Printing Office, on a regular basis. The only other entity allowed to produce our passports is the Bangko Sentral. And these three have their own squabbles that I’d rather not get into at the moment.
I am a creature of the Internetz, and yes, we live and spend most of our time online, even here in this corner of the third world infamously known for its patronage of PornHub through its speedy dial-up access-like connections in an Internet world full of 4K video clips of cats and other people’s toddlers.
Nasa eGovernance ang kinabukasan
The way forward is with eGovernance, with working online forms and payments of course, even with all the rainbow color schemes and unicorns, and bevels, and hit counters, and whatever eye candy a 90’s web developer can throw at us users. As long as it works securely, I’m fine with that (disclosure: hit counters and bevels drives me nuts).
So this is me doing what every responsible grown up does when we encounter something broken on the Internet. We post and rant about it on our blogs and on social media. Run a poll and take bets. Hey, I did so in a friendly-reminder, non-condescending-isque manner, in the best way that I can. Trust me, this is me being warm and friendly. There is still hope for mankind, I’m positive this will be resolved soon.
But when people in the national government responsible for our eGovernance efforts, treats matters like this as how a local government would treat a pothole (or much worse, roadkill), then I am telling you now we are all screwed.
By the way, last Friday, while on an Uber ride on my way home, I realized that familiar bump was gone. The city finally filled the pothole with gravel and asphalt and suddenly my ride was less bumpy than what I have grown familiar with the past few months. Viva Manila!