Silvio Micali, the most famous Italian cryptography expert in the world, is convinced that one should not abdicate privacy using the Immuni app in the fight against the Coronavirus.
“We refute the idea that, in the wake of the urgency, a tradeoff between privacy and safety is necessary: it is not, thanks to available technology. We should consider COVID-19 tracing solutions that are efficient and effective while respecting our fundamental freedoms”.
Turing Award in 2012, Godel Award in 1993, Silvio Micali (Palermo, October 13th, 1954) is an Italian computer scientist, professor of computer science at the Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) of MIT in Boston.
Silvio Micali became a blockchain rock star after founding Algorand and his experience in the field of cryptography is a globally recognized talent.
In one of his many contributions, Micali describes the situation impeccably from different perspectives and offers a functional solution that allows the technology to play its positive role in a world challenged by this pandemic.
“The blockchain has the potential of improving our democracy and bringing it to the next level. lt will help us to generate trust, establish a shared truth, and achieve social consensus when necessary”.
The apps available to defend against Coronavirus
No matter how well designed, an app tracking physical contact is no substitute for a well-organized medical system where everyone can be tested.
However, contact tracking remains important even when all other instruments are present. In fact, since this disease is also common among asymptomatic individuals, contact tracking is very useful when tests are available.
Silvio Micali observes two models on which society is operating:
- Government-focused (Immuni);
- Focus on the individual (Google-Apple).
Both these models use Bluetooth technology because of its low power consumption.
- In the Italian approach, the data collected on interactions are sent to the government, which calculates the level of contagion risk of each individual and warns all those who have a sufficiently high risk. The transmission of the data of the interactions is encrypted (and digitally signed). This important step prevents personal data from falling into the wrong hands. However, the data is made available to the relevant agency whose behaviour cannot be known.
- The Google-Apple proposal is very respectful of people’s privacy. In fact, records of encounters never leave the phone and all encounters older than 14 days are deleted forever. The tracking works using pseudonyms.
A common global view thanks to blockchain
Something is missing in both approaches according to Silvio Micali:
- Google – Apple: neither the government nor the citizens will have a global vision of the phenomenon.
- Immuni application: only the government has a national perspective and citizens cannot ascertain if their perspective matches that actually expressed by the government or the agency in charge.
Every citizen should have the right to be able to analyze, compare and verify data protected by pseudonyms.
The blockchain allows transparency with a degree of decentralization that allows society to move to an advanced form of data processing.
Micali’s solution consists of Google’s and Apple’s technologies applied to a permissionless blockchain (an immutable ledger that is accessible by everyone without permission).
- Everyone can write an entry in the database;
- Everyone can read any entry in the database;
- No one can delete, alter or change the order of entries in the database.
These records can be better understood as technology evolves. Records can also become an important source of knowledge for deciding what to do in a future pandemic.
“The ability to reach a common global view efficiently and directly, without the risks of censorship and manipulation that are intrinsic in traditional centralized approaches, is an unprecedented tool for humanity. And it will be crucial to realize our collective aspirations”.
Silvio Micali is aware that governments’ efforts in this direction could be constrained by the hurry to find immediate solutions.
His proposal and the feasibility of such an approach should be considered, requested and demanded by citizens.
Computer literacy is the only tool capable of making us evolve as a free collective capable of asserting our rights.