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What do we do with the positives?

April 13, 2020

What do we do with the positives?

Here come the blood tests, and it’s about time. Serosurveys, to determine what percentage of populations have already contracted COVID-1 9. And, separately, tests to indicate whether you, very, previously caught it, but suffered only mild evidences, or nothing at all.

In America alone, millions will soon be recovered from COVID-1 9 illnes. Half the people I know, including myself, seem to have had Schrodinger’s Respiratory Infection in the last couple of months, and are beyond eager to know if they research positive for COVID-1 9 antibodies.

Even if they do, though — made very clear, most won’t — what then? Suppose antibodies indicate exemption, for a while at least. That seems somewhat likely, he said conservatively. Suppose the tests are accurate enough to rely on. What do we as national societies then do with that info?

The immune — the positives — could return to relative normality with no immediate horror of further infection, while everybody else — the negatives — is not able to. Do we want to create a two-tier society like that? Do we want to make a point of replacing negatives with positives in high-risk situations like nursing home? Do we want people’s test status to be publicly known, or available upon demand by the government? How about their employer? How about their healthcare provider?

Most of these are hard questions with no easy answers, and while I, looks just like you, have sentiments, some strong, about which are the least bad alternatives, I also think this is mostly a topic about which rational people are able to contradict. Still , no matter what our collective reacts are, we are to be able concur we want them to be implemented in the most privacy-preserving way. That’s where engineering comes in.

Lots of techies and trust-safety-privacy professionals are looking for some way to contribute to COVID response other than some silly hackathons.

I have an idea: let’s start thinking about a robust, counterfeit-resistant, privacy-preserving mechanism to prove immunity to nCoV.

— Alex Stamos (@ alexstamos) March 30, 2020

It’s worth noting that proving immunity is still far from being a brand-new problem. I’ve traveled to many countries which require proof of yellow-fever vaccination before they give visitors to enter. Some even enforce it. The solution is venerable, simple, and decentralized; a slip of paper stamped, dated, and signed by a doctor.

This solution is relatively privacy-preserving — governments can’t demand to see anyone’s yellow-fever articles at any appropriate moment, because they’re only needed at border uprights. It is very hard to verify, and relatively easy to forge … but it’s good enough to have worked. Its purpose is not to eliminate the risk of transmission with absolute 100% efficacy, but to reduce it to a feasible amount.

The same applies to COVID-1 9. As Harvard epidemiologists Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch wrote back in February, it’s important to” distinguish between whether something ever happens and whether it is happening at a frequency that matters .” We don’t have to worry about freakish perimeter instances. A 99% effective answer should be just fine.

So what would that solution be? Something simple, decentralized, reasonably effective, and privacy-preserving. Suppose that you go to your doctor’s office to get a test, and while you’re there, your characterization is taken, and “youve selected” a passcode. Then, together with your exam solution, you may receive some kind of wristband with a QR code. When your status needs to be verified, the QR code is checked, you enter your passcode( or elected not to, or conveniently forget it ), and then your headshot pas up, fortifying your identity and status.

I’m not pretend this is any kind of perfect solution; real cryptographers will probably come up with something different and better.( In special, to pseudonymize your individual test sample to the extent probable, and ensure that whoever legions the central database, if any, cannot decipher the data therein .) This is to illustrate the key points that 1) only those you approve of can see your status, and 2) that status can be verified to ensure it’s actually yours, via some personal identifier like a headshot.

What do we then do with such a system? Well, after the veer drops and abates, perhaps we will consider reopening restaurants so long as every other table remains empty, and supermarkets as long as only 1( disguised) patron is within for every 100 square feet of floor opening. Alternatively, perhaps, diners and places will too have the option of opening exclusively to the positives — symbolizing with no internal rules, but COVID-1 9 positive status must be verified before standing entryway, in the same way that bars check your senility before letting you enter.

Would those requirements be desirable? Again, that is eminently debatable. Would some people hack such a system in the same way that adolescents use sham IDs? Sure. Will this happen” at a frequency that matters ?” That seems quite unlikely. In cases where it seems more likely, presumably more stringent regulations can be applied.

The important thing to which technology can contribute is to make this all simple, straightforward, effective, and privacy-preserving, while consonant with our collective goals as a society. Regardless on what we agree on as those goals, if it turns out previous infection consults exemption, the positives will have a key part to play as we try to resume our lives — to the fullest extent probable — in the ever-present shadow of the pandemic.

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