EPFL and ETH Zurich advance digital contact tracing project

DP-3T proposes a secure, decentralized, privacy-preserving proximity tracing system © iStock

DP-3T proposes a secure, decentralized, privacy-preserving proximity tracing system © iStock

Secure contact tracing could be a powerful tool to fight the spread of COVID-19. A unique, decentralized system developed as part of an international consortium, including EPFL and ETH Zurich, will soon be launched with the support of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

Over the past two months, researchers from EPFL and ETH Zurich have been developing technologies for digital contact tracing, together with a large number of European colleagues. The collaborative development effort, called DP-3T (Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing), involves researchers from KU Leuven, TU Delft, University College London, the Helmholtz Center for Information Security (CISPA), the University of Oxford, and the University of Torino, as well as Swiss software development experts Ubique and PocketCampus. The full solution is still in development, but already available as an open-source protocol on GitHub.

On April 21st, Pascal Strupler, Director-General of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), confirmed that the Office is working with EPFL and ETH Zurich to complete an app by May 11th. “It will be based on the DP-3T concept of EPFL, and will leverage the new Google and Apple Contact Tracing APIs as soon as they are available,” Strupler said.

Maximum protection

DP-3T proposes a secure, decentralized, privacy-preserving proximity tracing system based on the Bluetooth Low Energy standard. Its goal is to simplify and accelerate the process of identifying people who have been in contact with someone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, thus providing a technological foundation to help slow its spread. The system aims to minimize privacy and security risks for individuals and communities, and guarantee the highest level of data protection.

“The innovative efforts of the EPFL-ETH Zurich team, along with their collaborators, show that it is not necessary to trade off personal privacy to put in place an effective technological response to the COVID-19 crisis,” says Jim Larus, dean of EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC).

In Switzerland, the DP-3T effort is being coordinated nationally as part of the National COVID-19 Science Task Force of the Swiss Federal Council, within the “digital contact tracing” track.

Strupler adds that the FOPH, along with other Swiss federal agencies, fully supports the DP-3T approach.

“There is a common view of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner, the National Centre for Cyber Security, and the National Ethics Committee that a decentralized approach best meets the Swiss needs for maximum protection of privacy,” Strupler said.