In an attempt to give online commerce a major shot in the arm, the government finally inaugurated on Thursday the country’s first digital certification center located at the National Computer Center (NCC) in Quezon City. The high-tech facility, which is protected by a steel cage, was unveiled by top officials from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
Also present during the event were representatives from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica), which provided the bulk of the funding worth $2.3 million. The monetary grant came with the condition that the project must use Korean PKI technology provided by South Korean IT firms Posdata and Signgate.
According to NCC officer-in-charge Denis Villorente, the digital certification center will be an integral component of the National Public Key Infrastructure or NPKI in the Philippines. The National PKI will enable users of unsecured public network such as the Internet to securely and privately exchange data and even money through the use of a public and a private cryptographic key pair that is obtained and shared through a trusted authority.
The proponents said the Philippines needed a national PKI since face-to-face communication has been changed to e-commerce due to the Internet. Thus, it has become necessary to verify the parties involved in an electronic transaction.
The NPKI project started in 2006 when CICT, now the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO), started working with the Korean government, through the NCC on a feasibility study for the establishment of a National PKI. In 2009, Executive Order No. 810 entitled “Institutionalizing the Certification Scheme for Digital Signatures and Directing the Application of Digital Signatures in E-Government Services” was signed by former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
EO 810 required all government agencies to use digital signatures in their online services to ensure the confidentiality, authenticity, and integrity of electronic transactions in government. The NCC worked with the Koica and DTI in the development of a National PKI that would support secure electronic commerce and electronic messaging as well as e-government programs requiring the use of public key cryptography. Under the E-Commerce Law signed by then Pres.
Joseph Estrada, the DTI was designated as the lead agency in implementing and monitoring e-commerce in the country. The Philippines is one of the first few countries in Asia that enacted an e-commerce law that aims to promote and protect electronic transactions.
However, security and privacy issues hindered the country’s development of e-commerce and full use of e-government services. The government said that with the establishment of the National PKI, the efficiency of e-government services will be enhanced and security of electronic transactions guaranteed. Villorente disclosed that the NCC has been designated as the certification authority (CA) for the public sector. No private entity has been picked as of yet who will serve as CA for the private sector, he added. Villorente said BIR will serve as a pilot agency for the project wherein it will use digital certificates for its Electronic Filing Payment and System (EFPS) for large tax payers.
The NCC exec said there would a minimal fee that will be charged for applicants of digital certificates. At the launch event, representatives from Koica also demonstrated how citizens will soon be able to file their income tax returns using online transactions that are secured with National PKI.