Test and trace

Andrea Gadotti, a computational privacy researcher, discusses his explorations of test and trace apps in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic during this Reddit AMA – part of Imperial Lates Online: Staying Connected

Mobile based technologies in the form of test and trace apps and health passports have been put forward as way to open up the world again in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and minimise the impact of future pandemics. The data collected by such technologies could revolutionise policy making and aid research in the global fight against infection diseases. 

However, the omnipresent tracking of people’s movements and interactions required by these technologies can reveal a lot about people’s life. Using a contact tracing app means wherever you go you are broadcasting visible identifiers, often several times a minute. The result is a constant stream of data that is highly valuable to many people. 

It is clearly concerning if anybody could set up a sensor network and track every place you go. Or if such development projects experience mission creep, where a technology built for good intentions  is also made available for more questionable goals later down the line. The technology also poses concerns around inclusivity by assuming everyone has equal access and competence with online devices, not to mention the implications for freedom of speech issues when the activities of whistle blowers, journalists, or activists are legally being traced. 

So what is the solution? Andrea Gadotti believe smart privacy preserving technology could allow people to move around the world with a sense of security that doesn’t require the violation of their privacy. He doesn’t think we need to pause privacy laws and regulations and resort to mass surveillance to measure and limit the spread of this or any future virus. In his latest work Andrea is researching how cryptography and transparent policies can provide reassurance whilst allowing everyone to check under the hood of any new mass roll out public tracing technology. 

During this Reddit AMA Andrea and his colleagues looking forward to discussing privacy preserving technologies, the potential risks posed by rolls out of test and trace apps, and the realities of his own career in computer security.

Imperial Lates Online

This event is part of Imperial Lates Online: Staying Connected. Tune in to explore cutting-edge science and engineering in our week-long digital celebration of science from 27 July to 2 August.

Imperial Lates Online are most suitable for over 18s.

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