Philippines puts brakes on vehicle RFID plan

Due to mounting concerns, the Philippines' Land Transportation Office (LTO) has agreed to indefinitely postpone a multi-billion peso plan to roll out radio frequency identification (RFID) devices in vehicles.
The LTO last week announced it would start implementing the initiative Oct. 1, but public uproar compelled LTO officials to halt the project.
The plan calls for stickers containing RFID tags, priced at 350 pesos (US$7.4) per tag, to be installed in all types of motor vehicles, as part of a registration process the that will be valid for 10 years.
The transport authority was to target some 5 million motor vehicles in the initial rollout, which would add some 1.6 billion pesos (US$33.9 million) to government coffers.
LTO chief Arturo Lomibao, quoted by local TV station ABS-CBN, said the LTO was willing to postpone deployment and engage in further public consultations for the project, including dialogs with transport groups and government leaders.
The LTO is a sub-agency of the Philippines' Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), which in 1997 approved a multi-billion peso wide-ranging plan to upgrade the department's IT infrastructure, including its vehicle registration system.
The DOTC awarded the project to private IT group, Stradcom, under a build-operate-own (BOO) scheme.
Project deemed illegal, expensive
Two lawmakers have questioned the legality of the RFID plan, which reportedly would cost the government some 2.5 billion pesos (US$51.2 million) to implement.
Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza, in a statement, called for the government to scrap the plan as he deemed it "illegal" and "too expensive". The lawmaker was quoted in reports to say the RFID project did not pass through legal channels, including a public bidding process and review from the National Telecommunications Commission, the Philippine government's watchdog and policy-making body.
He urged government to call for another round of bids and conduct more reviews for the project.
Another lawmaker has threatened to go to court to file a temporary restraining order against the rollout of the project. Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teodoro Casino said the plan reeks of "irregularities" and considering its cost, should undergo a review from Congress.
Concerned groups and industry stakeholders have also voiced opposition against the RFID proposal.
Industry group Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (Campi) said the local automotive industry strongly urged the LTO to shed more light on the pros and cons of the RFID plan, and chided the transport authority for not initiating consultations before announcing the rollout of plan.
The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (PISTON), an organization comprising public transportation drivers and operators, said in a statement it was "surprised" by the announcement.
The group further said the RFID plan might be used to "harass" drivers and operators but did not elaborate on this claim.
In a separate statement, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights echoed similar sentiments and raised concerns over privacy as the RFID tags will contain information on vehicle owners.
The commission said it fears the RFID system might be used for illegal "surveillance".
Stradcom stepped up to allay fears the RFID chips would be used for "spying" and insisted the contract was "legal". Vince Dizon, its media and public relations chief, was quoted in news reports to say that the project was "part of the company's original contract to handle all technological requirements of the LTO".
He added that the tags were not overpriced. Each RFID tag costs 350 pesos (US$7.4), compared to about 80 pesos (US$1.7) vehicles owners would pay for the proposed LTO sticker. The tags are customized to handle the LTO's requirements, such as more accurate readouts and reliability on real-time information about the vehicle.
The tags are also tamper-proof to provide protection against theft, he said.
On allegations about spying, Dizon said the RFID tags do not have global positioning capabilities, and as such, cannot be used to track down vehicles.