Editorial: QR Code

(Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan)

IT SEEMS like, by piecemeal, certain gaps and blunders are getting clearer by the day, and no small help from public pressure that has been calling for more transparency from

government officials.

So here comes another goof. In the virtual presser yesterday with local officials and Cabinet secretaries, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella was asked by a member of the media on the shortage of quarantine passes. The mayor said this was because the City based its list on a Department of Health database, which was from 2016 yet. One can only heave a sigh; ineptitude has persistently attacked our crisis management on various levels.

It is interesting to know how much the City Government is spending on the production of this new batch of quarantine passes that bears QR codes or if it had outsourced a firm to set up the “system.” These new passes take the size of a whopping letter-sized sheet embedded with a QR image “for verification.”

To recall, the use of the old quarantine passes was suddenly suspended on order of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. This was parallel to a reset following Cebu City’s reversion to enhanced community quarantine.

Under the mayor’s Executive Order 82-A, there would only be 178,000 passes.

Under the new scheme, holders of passes ending in odd numbers can go out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Those with even numbers, on the other hand, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. On Sundays, everyone in Cebu City have to be indoors.

A QR or Quick Response code is a type of optical label readable by a machine or gadget. It carries information on the item on which it is embedded. We suppose the point of putting a QR code on the new quarantine pass serves not only for purposes of identification, but also as a sort of tracker or locator.

The ground scenario we are imagining is that of policemen bearing networked smart phones installed with a QR code scanner that is linked to a mother program. However, Cebu City Legal Chief Rey Gealon’s explanation in a press briefing, merely mentions that for an inspector to authenticate a pass, the printed quarantine pass number must reflect the QR code-generated number appearing on a scanner. He warned the public not to tamper with the passes.

There might be no need for Gealon to worry about tampering if the QR coding is but a part of a system program. The program itself would have easily detected any duplications or tampering.

The caution only leaves us with questions. If the QR coding is not attached to a program or application, what security feature does it serve when it merely stops short on reconciling printed user numbers with that of the scan-generated numbers? What stops anyone from duplicating the passes when the City now allows sharing among citizens? How can a simple scanner on a gadget identify an original or a mere copy? Worse, anyone can generate a whole new set of numeric series and generate a QR code for it.

A technology journalist in a social media post pointed some weak links in Cebu City’s new quarantine pass system. He said any enterprising citizen may, in a fit of notoriety, still generate two passes and go out everyday. Without an application to match, that whole QR code thing is absolutely unnecessary.


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