Photo by Romain Dancre via Unsplash

Puerto Princesa City Incident Management Team (IMT) chief Dr. Dean Palanca said he supports the removal of paper forms and logbooks as contact tracing sources due to data privacy concerns and the risk of spreading COVID-19 through pens and papers.

Instead, he is encouraging establishments to adapt the StaySafe.ph mobile app. However, he stated that this would still be hard to implement because not all establishment has the capability to implement a digital logbook system. He also said he hopes other government offices can assist the IMT in ensuring that all private establishments utilize the StaySafe system.

“Oo naman. 200 percent dapat di na gamitin [ang paper forms]. Ang problem ay ‘di sinusunod ng [ibang] mga establishments ang StaySafe. ‘Di pinapatupad sa mga other businesses and offices,” Palanca said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“Sana nga ay may mag-help din na other government offices to monitor and implement [digital logbooks],” he added.

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Data privacy concerns linked to contact tracing forms arose in early November after mobile phone users received numerous text blasts from unknown numbers offering job opportunities. These text messages usually contain a link to the website that gathers sensitive personal information from the mobile user, which can then be used to gain access to bank accounts.

Even the StaySafe app received criticism in late September from information technology experts, including former (Department of Information and Communications Technology) DICT official Eliseo Rio Jr., for privacy issues.

However, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) said there is no evidence linking contact tracing forms to these scam messages, saying instead that a global syndicate is behind such activities. Still, many mobile users are wary of sharing phone numbers with private establishments.

Likewise, IMT contact tracing team leader Dr. Ralph Marco Flores said that poring through each establishment’s logbooks and paper records is too tedious and that the IMT is already moving away from this method.

“Ideally, we look at them one by one when a person tells us they went to that certain place. A very tedious process, especially with the limited time and human resources we have. That is why we are veering away with such a method and encourage the use of digital logbooks, such as StaySafe,” Flores told Palawan News on Monday through a phone interview.

Flores added that when conducting contact tracing on a COVID-positive patient, the close contacts that will be isolated will usually be the patient’s household members or colleagues. Patients would usually no longer declare if they visited private establishments such as malls, stores, and the like.

“Mostly household, workplace, and events. Like sa manifests and guest lists talaga nagagamit namin. Bihira lang din sila magsabi talaga kung saan sila pumupunta actually. Madalas nakakalimutan na nila,” he added.

Flores added that to his knowledge, there is no current governing agency, particularly at the local level, that ensures that the information from private establishments is handled properly or if the data is being purged after a certain period. Unlike the StaySafe where data is managed by the national government, data from paper forms and logbooks will remain with the establishment.

“The logbook’s safekeeping lies with the establishments,” Flores said.

Because there are no clear guidelines on what private establishments should do with their paper contact tracing forms, it is unclear what they should do to safeguard the information.

One such establishment, SM Puerto Princesa City, while it fully utilizes the StaySafe app on its premises, also still uses paper forms for backup. Russell Fernandez, public relations officer, said that they also do not purge their paper forms, in case the city government needs them.

“Nasa medical services for safekeeping and reporting in case the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) or IMT needs them. We haven’t purged anything unless there’s an advice or mandate from IMT,” he said through Facebook messenger on Tuesday.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.