Coin Center, a nonprofit cryptocurrency advocacy group, has appealed to the community to develop tech-based responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that protect civil liberties and privacy.
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On April 8, it has been reported that Peter Van Valkenburgh, the center’s Director of Research, surveyed recent proposals from the Zcash Foundation for Private Contact Tracing Protocols, as well as progress with Decentralized Identifiers by Microsoft Research.
However, Van Valkenburgh wrote:
“It’s our duty as a community of technologists to be vigilant against the imposition of tracing and identity technologies that could, long term, jeopardize our autonomy and privacy.”
Coin Center warns against the pandemic response of the Chinese authorities, which solicits data on users of Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s WePay for use in the state’s contact tracing and immunity passporting.
It is claimed that this same technology is equally used for the surveillance of citizens’ behavior and a clampdown on dissidents’ freedoms.
While South Korea, like China, has drawn on state-run GPS tracking and data harvesting that is mandatory for all citizens, Singapore has used a centralized directory of phones, implementing Bluetooth technology to track movements in real-time.
Likewise, Van Valkenburgh draws an apparently hard-and-fast line between presumably open societies in the West and the examples he gives in Asia. Yet whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have this week stepped in to warn of post-pandemic surveillance creep in the United States, likely to compound the intelligence agencies’ existing overreach throughout the 2010s.
Unlike all these approaches, blockchain protocols for decentralized and anonymized contact tracing can safeguard privacy and freedoms against governments or corporations.
However, The Zcash Foundation, which is collaborating with projects such as the CEN Protocol (initiated by CoEpi and Covid-Watch) and DP-3T is calling on the community to jointly develop a shared, open protocol for privacy-preserving contact tracing that could be used on billions of user devices.
Thus, in the meantime, a proof-of-immunity decentralized identity scheme would need to be significantly more complex than systems such as Bitcoin and could look to Decentralized Identifiers as a blueprint for a passporting tool that would offer meaningful control for individual users.