Even though it is often assumed that when a party is in power some if not all of its staffers will have positions within the government, sometimes their roles can create potential ethical and legal issues, which is what the opposition New Progressive Party thinks to have found with the Garcia Padilla administration from the Popular Democratic Party.
The former, as part of its 75 year anniversary celebration, launched a new memories sites called Casa Grande, or big house, asking supporters to submit pictures of the party’s history. The website uses the APIs or application programming interfaces of Facebook, Twitter and Google, allowing users of those services to log on with their credentials of the mentioned networks. It was in then in the login screens for the website, that a potential issue was uncovered, when by clicking the link to log in, users where asked to provide access permissions to Puerto Rico by Puerto Ricans, which is a government website established to promote internal tourism in the US territory, a supposedly distinct operation from the Casa Grande initiative.
While some of the login screens were changed to the Casa Grande name after the allegations by NPP, the Google option still reflects the ‘PuertoRicobyPuertoRicans’ identifier, which is where the conflict lies. In addition, the login screens for both the party and government websites reveal the same developer’s email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Each of the services used allows for the creations of free applications that can access its features, and it appears as if the same application was used to develop both sites. In addition both sites have very similar layouts, and are both hosted on Amazon servers.
While there is no direct use of public funds in the use of social network login apps since they are provided for free by the companies previously mentioned, there still remains a problem when considering the payment of working hours, access between government owned and operated accounts and those of the political party. The fact that the government website was developed first raises the main issue, since its development certainly costed the government, and the use of the same apps or copying of the code by the party represents a benefit for the PPD using public monies.
Pasquines conducted an investigation and discovered the developer behind both websites to be David Bartolomei, an undergraduate computer engineering student at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez Campus. Bartolomei has several social media profiles, but none have either the Popular Democratic Party or any government agency listed as an employer. The student does have links to Ricardo Alfaro, who serves the Director of Digital Strategy of the Executive Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico, and previously held the position of Director of New Media within the PPD.
Article 6 of the Puerto Rico Constitution clearly specifies that public funds must be used for public interests and cannot be used to benefit individuals or exclusionary organizations. In addition Law 1 as approved in 2012, expressly forbids government employees to employ among other things, technological applications that promote a political party during work hours.
If as it seems, the PPD used code developed for the Government of Puerto Rico it would represent the use of publicly funded goods to benefit a political party, and whoever is responsible could face ethics charges. The NPP is already calling for an investigation by the Comptroller of Puerto Rico, and the evidence is already publicly available showing the connection between the two websites, a problematic situation for both the administration and the general public.
The mere possibility that this situation is occurring, and the ease with which it was discovered represents a sloppy management of technological affairs by an administration that has branded itself as technologically based one on multiple occasions. We can all read the same pages, and we hate these blurred lines.
UPDATE: The PPD responded to the NPP allegations saying that the website was paid for using party funds, and the code is open source. This still does not explain why the Google and Twitter access apps showed the Puerto Rico by Puerto Ricans name and why they share the same developed.
UPDATE 2: Following the different news reports, the PPD has removed the ability to sign in with Google, where the PuertoRicobyPuertoRicans name remained.