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The Corona crisis is slowing down the economy and governments want to return to normality as quickly as possible. It is still unclear how this is to be achieved without taking any risks. The Österreichische Staatsdruckerei Holding AG (OeSD, Austrian State Printing Office) believes it has found the solution – via an app which offers digital proof of immunity! This could enable one thing in particular: the freedom to travel. According to data protection experts,  it could also encourage discrimination.

The coronavirus spread has hit its peak in Austria. Several measures have already been eased. Others seem more resolute. For example, national borders are still closed, and the lack of freedom of movement is a major problem, especially where tourism is concerned.

App as proof of immunity

If the OeSD has its way, there are two things in particular that will foster a sense of security in this corona crisis. Immunity tests, as in the certainty of knowing who is immune. Reliable methods and widespread availability of immunity tests are expected soon. Experts at the OeSD also now want to provide reliable proof of immunity via an app-based system. This aims to combine an official proof of identity with a verified proof of immunity. For example, users could simultaneously prove their identity and immunity via a smartphone app when requested by an official.

Data protection compliance

According to the OeSD, the app is compliant with data protection laws. There is no central database. The data is decentralized, which means it’s stored exclusively on the user’s own smartphone. This is underlined by Lukas Praml, Managing Director of the OeSD. Technical coordination is in progress together with Professors Barbara Prainsack and Nikolaus Forgó from the University of Vienna.

When a person crosses a border, they receive a request from a border official’s device. This tells the app user what data is being requested and allows them to decide whether they want to share this data. The data is sent – only after the app user’s  explicit consent – directly to the official’s device. The system will also be rolled out as an open source project in order to guarantee full transparency.

User-friendly design

A prerequisite for its implementation is the active involvement of the public sector. Public authorities, legislators and the medical profession. Ultimately, however, its implementation depends on widespread public acceptance. The app should made more appealing with a user-friendly design. Technical know-how shouldn’t be necessary:

  • After downloading the app, the user must place their smartphone on top of their passport so that the information stored in the passport chip can be read, e.g., portrait photo, name, date of birth. The process only takes place after the user’s confirmation.
  • This personal data remains encrypted on the user’s own device and is not forwarded at any time without prior permission.
  • After that, an existing immunity test can be scanned in using e.g., a QR code.
  • If required, the user’s personal identity and immunity status can be verified at any time by smartphone after they have granted their consent.

The app can only be used in conjunction with a validated immunity test.

Use of the app should be voluntary. Nor should individuals who do not have a smartphone or who do not intend to use the app be put at a disadvantage. This is why an analogue proof of immunity should be an option at the same time.

A return to freedom of movement

Restart.ID is designed to simplify border crossings, make these safer and digitize them in order to facilitate a rapid return to unrestricted travel. The app could also be helpful in the healthcare sector. Protective equipment is in short supply in the Corona crisis. PPE could be spared on staff and patients who have proof of immunity.

Praml explained to the Austrian news outlet orf.at that he has already been in contact with the key parties involved. An initial roll out would be possible in about two months.

Although Hans Zeger, chairman of ARGE Daten (a data privacy agency), believes that the app jeopardizes fundamental civil rights. He thinks that there is a danger of discrimination against individuals who have not yet been infected by SARS-CoV-2. “Individuals who have proof of immunity might be treated better,” Zeger told orf.at: “At the end of the day, an immune person might be forced to use such an app. A digital proof of immunity would only make sense if immunity tests can be carried out nationwide at short notice.”

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