1. No…not with a fountain pen…

    What constitutes a digital signature? That is the basis for one of the major electoral questions that has “recently” popped up. I say recently with a touch of sarcasm, since the issue was raised pre-election:

    He said that if the BEI would not be required to enter the digital signature, then other sources would also be able to send data to the servers where election results are stored.

    But Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the instructions did not mean that there would be no digital signatures in the transmission of the votes.

    Jimenez said the instructions simply removed one step in the transmission process in order to minimize human intervention and further protect the results of the vote.

    The digital signature of the machine is already encoded in the device, he said, and that the digital signature of the BEI is also entered into the machine before the voting.

    Digital signature essential to safeguard automated polls - Inquirer, March 25, 2010

    I could be snarky and ask where all of these candidates were when this story broke back in March, but I am never snarky…or sarcastic. Ever.

    Moving on.

    The relevant laws being cited right now are Republic Act 9369 (amending the next law) and Republic Act 8436. RA 9368 (Sec. 2) laid out what constitutes an Election Return:

    "4. Election returns - a document in electronic and printed form directly produced by the counting or voting machine, showing the date of the election, the province, municipality and the precinct in which it is held and the votes in figures for each candidate in a precinct in areas where AES is utilized;

    And what a certificate of canvass is, and its component parts (Sec. 20):

    "The certificates of canvass transmitted electronically and digitally signed shall be considered as official election results and shall be used as the basis for the proclamation of a winning candidate."

    The ambiguity lies in that RA 9369 does not expressly define what is a digital signature. Thus, as the argument goes, since RA 9369 is amending RA 8436 that law’s reference to a signature holds sway. Sadly, that law does not specify what constitutes a digital signature either. Instead, with regards to the certificates of canvass it just indicates (Sec. 18):

    The printed election returns shall be signed and thumbmarked by the fourth member and COMELEC authorized representative and attested to by the election officer or authorized representative. The Chairman of the Board shall then publicly read and announce the total number of votes obtained by each candidate based on the election returns.

    The Comelec has been insisting that having the PCOS machine digitally sign the election returns on behalf of the BEIs when the BEIs input their codes to send the returns conforms with the law. Congressman Locsin has said not quite, since the E-Commerce Act (RA 8792) specifically states what constitutes an “electronic signature”:

    Section 8. Legal Recognition of Electronic Signatures.- An electronic signature on the electronic document shall be equivalent to the signature of a person on a written document if the signature is an electronic signature and proved by showing that a prescribed procedure, not alterable by the parties interested in the electronic document…

    But, even in RA 8792 there are some grey areas with regards to the digital signatures, namely that as long as it can be proved that the digital signature was made on behalf of someone, following relevant security protocols, the signature can stand.

    For the time being, the ambiguity here will be one of the major wedge issues utilized to discredit, or undermine, the elections. In this instance, I believe a case should be raised to the Supreme Court to allow them to rule on whether the machine generated digital signatures fulfill the letter and spirit of the law. Especially with the House and Senate full speed ahead with their canvassing.