ETSI Launches Standards Group for Interoperable COVID-19 Proximity Detection Apps
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 | Comments

In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Industry Specification Group “Europe for Privacy-Preserving Pandemic Protection” (ISG E4P) was established to provide a standardization framework to enable developers to build interoperable mobile apps for proximity detection and anonymous identification.

This standardization framework will enable the development of interoperable systems to automatically trace and inform potentially infected users in addition to manual notification methods, while preserving users’ privacy and complying with relevant Data Protection regulation, ETSI said.

As well as accelerating the development of smartphone-based apps to help with the essential breaking of transmission chains, such a pan-European standardization framework should enable interoperability among different proximity tracing and alert systems. The most effective strategy for curbing the spread of COVID-19 is to break transmission chains by informing people when they have been in close contact with other individuals who have tested positive for the virus.

A primary challenge is collecting, processing and acting on information about citizens’ proximity at scale, potentially representing tens or hundreds of millions of people. This must also be achieved without compromising users’ anonymity and privacy, and while safeguarding them against exposure to potential cyberattacks.

“By their nature, smartphones are highly personal devices, carrying large amounts of data about individuals,” said ETSI Director-General Luis Jorge Romero. “In ETSI, we are committed to support an international development community with a robust standardization framework that allows rapid, accurate and reliable solutions while winning the trust of the population at large.”

With more than 70% of Europeans owning a smartphone, this ubiquitous digital technology provides a valuable platform for tracing infection chains. The proximity of two phones can be determined via Bluetooth or other ultra-low power communications technologies. These measurements can be mapped into a warning system that directly alerts individuals when they have been at risk of exposure to others who have already tested positively for the virus.

Work of the new ETSI E4P group considers the proposed EC recommendation on a common Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to combat and exit from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular for mobile applications and the use of anonymized mobility data. It also reflects the EC Communication on Guidance on Apps supporting the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in relation to data protection. The group’s activities will also leverage ETSI expertise in areas including cybersecurity, e-health and emergency communications.

The new group includes more than 10 organizations drawn from global operators, vendors and research centers from various activity sectors. ETSI anticipates more players joining the group in the near future.

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