FROM INC MAGAZINE - How to Track Covid Without Surrendering Privacy

By Lou Steinberg, Chairman of the Authoriti Network


As the U.S. gets back to work, a solution to help ensure safety and protect user data.


This article appears in Inc. Magazine.

Your employees are returning to work; customers are coming back to your shop or restaurant. Are they presymptomatic? Infected? Asymptomatic? Tested and in the clear--but when? 


As states start to reopen their economies, lots of work is being done in residency analysis, app- and human-based contact tracing, testing for active infections, and antibody testing. The aim is to identify who is at risk and who isn't, which will help in both limiting the spread of the virus and giving people the confidence to get on with their lives.

But merely quantifying risk won't necessarily make us feel safer. People need to be able to demonstrate to an employer, shopping center, or social venue that they are at low risk of transmitting coronavirus at that very moment. To do this, we need the tools and technology for a supercharged version of a building access pass. We need to allow an individual to demonstrate, and an institution to check, that a person can safely show up at work, take a flight, or check into a hotel. 

Testing and tracing without being able to view and verify is like building cars but not roads. We need both to get anywhere. Not enough work is being done to create the infrastructure for a person to present and prove their risk level. Infrastructure may not be sexy, but it's vital.

These "roads" need to have plenty of on and off ramps, because risk assignment, the traffic, may be coming from many different testing labs, health systems, call centers, app providers, or any combination of them. They need to be safe and seamless--to be open and usable everywhere, at any time. They also need to protect our privacy and health records and be secure against identity theft or hacking that might produce fraudulent risk assertions. 

We know it can be done. China built one such model of infrastructure in several provinces.  Surveys and contact tracing determine an individual's risk level, and each person is issued a weekly Red/Yellow/Green QR code that shows their risk. A massive database, under state control, contains both identities and personal health information. 

That kind of central control clearly can't happen in the United States. Instead, our model of checking a QR needs to be a simple, central service that works no matter the source used to determine an individual's risk. While checking is centralized, the rest shouldn't be. Many organizations and apps can determine risk levels, and should support a common way to communicate. Critically, there must not be a central database controlled by a government entity. 

We have a solution. Authoriti is a fintech startup that provides software to secure financial transactions. We realized that we could repurpose our technology to solve the information infrastructure issues. In banking, we let customers generate secure QR codes to confirm the details of a transaction, such as opening a new account or wiring money. We focus on the transaction instead of only trying to verify the person's identity.

That QR code can become a Covid-19 smart-PIN. If any lab were to find antibodies, or any contact tracing service or app determines you are low risk, they could issue you a time-limited smart-PIN that confirms who you are, who issued it, and what test was performed. 


That QR code is a certificate you can display to show you are clear at that particular time.  It's like a building access pass. Security can check it at the door. The smart-PIN isn't registered in a central database, and the identities it contains are irreversibly one-way encrypted--no data needs to leave the user's phone. Regardless of which app or system creates it, the PIN can be securely presented and checked.

Once Authoriti realized we could help, it became obvious that we had to try. We will worry about the business implications later. Because the underlying tech already existed, we got from idea to running system in just a few days. Now it's time for our states to decide how they plan to let contact tracers and labs show that someone can safely participate in the reopened economy. Our highway is ready for the cars. Lou Steinberg is the founder of CTM Insights and chairman of the Authoriti Network.


MAY 20, 2020

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.






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