By Chito Chavez
Former Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon has called on the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to consider cyber security and national security issues before issuing its proposed common tower policy.
A lawyer and lead convener of Infrawatch, an infrastructure-oriented think tank, Ridon warned that foreign companies with overt or covert ties with intelligence services in their home countries should be barred from securing control of common towers for telecommunications firms.
“Consistent with cyber security, the DICT should prohibit tower companies (towercos) and end-users with ties or funding from foreign governments. Second, the towers should not be used as a platform for surveillance and intelligence activities,” Ridon said.
A former member of the ICT committee of the House of Representatives, Ridon stressed these restrictions are crucial to maintain the integrity of the common tower policy and protect foreign intelligence agencies from prying into billions of phone calls and text messages that are carried by telcos daily.
Fresh from a seminar at the Harvard School of Government, Ridon said that in view of the still-unresolved issues in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), it should be government policy to disallow foreign state-owned or state-funded corporations to enter the country’s tower industry.
“If these types of companies are allowed access to the country’s tower industry, there is no limit on the types of activities it can undertake, and no limit on the end-users it can allow in its towers. This presents as a national security and cyber security threat to the nation, as these companies and its end-users can install intelligence and surveillance equipment on its towers to monitor activities and gather information and data from our citizens and institutions,” he warned.
Ridon said that the advice of the country’s security sector should be considered in crafting DICT’s comprehensive common tower policy.
“There is a real danger in having a blind spot on issues involving security, given that tensions in WPS continue. It should be noted that the tower business is not merely confined to servicing existing telecom companies, but all other types of activities which require actual, physical towers. This, unfortunately, may include surveillance activities by foreign nations,” Ridon argued.