Unikname C.A.R.E™, a protocol for a successful end to the coronavirus lockdown

23 April 2020 | News

Charlène Demaret

As France prepares to lift coronavirus lockdown measures, the conditions of this re-opening still raise questions. States have to protect their population from contagion, but also ensure personal freedom. Unikname is betting on its privacy-preserving blockchain technology to propose a protocol that combines these two imperatives.

Figures recently released by the Institut Pasteur, Santé Publique France, and the Inserm on April, 21 2020 revealed that only 5,7 % of the French population has contracted the coronavirus, a rate far from the 60 % to 70 % required to achieve herd immunity and stop the spread of the virus in the population.

It is now evident that to prevent new waves of contamination, states must conduct massive screening campaigns and isolate people that test positive to Covid-19 to prevent them from infecting others.

Granting access to public spaces, public transportation, and shared workspaces only to those that are not contagious is a double challenge: First a technical challenge to ensure the privacy of medical data, but also a challenge in terms of civil liberties. For such an operation to succeed countrywide, the chosen solution must not only ensure complete anonymity for every screened individual, but also reliably protect the confidentiality of their medical data.

Activists such as Tristan Nitot (ex. QWANT) are drawing attention to the risks of sacrificing individual freedom, even if only temporarily, during the pandemic. The controversy around the StopCovid mobile application shows how sensitive the matter is in civil society. The potential risk of storing test results in centralized databases should encourage states to go for more innovative approaches.

A complete protocol to ensure test anonymity

In the protocol that our cybersecurity experts have developed, after being tested for Covid-19, to access public spaces, a citizen must be able to display the result of his test on his smartphone. He also needs to be guaranteed that this result can neither be used nor accessed by a third party without his approval. For such an application to be accepted by civil society, it must provide technical insurance that neither public authorities, nor a private company, nor even a hacker (who would have managed to infiltrate either a public server or that of the analysis laboratory) can get a hold of a file containing the list of infected people.

It’s a real technical challenge. At no point during the process should it be possible to establish a link between the person and the test result or the diagnostic. This is true at every stage of the process, from the collect of the sample to the results being published.

The cryptography and data anonymization experts of the Unikname team who designed the Unikname CARE ™ protocol chose to use the uns.network blockchain. This blockchain was initially dedicated to the management of anonymous and inviolable universal identifiers, and developed for the Unikname Connect authentication solution, solution which incidentally has just received the1st prize from the think tank INNOCHERCHE in cybersecurity.

This approach will allow each citizen to download the results of their Covid-19 test on their smartphone without ever having to reveal their true identity. They will not have to give a social security number, an identity card number, or even their name.

The test results are stored by the analysis laboratories totally anonymously on a semi-public blockchain. It is in this blockchain that the App installed on the citizen’s phone will be able to find their test results via their anonymous universal identifier. The individual is the only one to know this identifier, their @Unikname.

This approach will allow each citizen to download the results of their Covid-19 test on their smartphone without ever having to reveal their true identity.

The link between their test result and a citizen’s identity is only revealed when they have to voluntarily present their results to access a place or a service reserved for people not carrying SARS-CoV-2, such as an retirement home, or when boarding a commercial flight. This link is presented on their smartphone screen using their identity papers and my.unikname.app.

The application itself is highly secure and the underlying cryptography will prevent anyone other than the owner of the phone from accessing this data, in the event of a loss or theft of the smartphone.

In practice, the role of the analysis laboratories is key in the Unikname C.A.R.E™ system. The person in charge of sample collection checks the patient’s identity during the test. This step is already part of a laboratory process in the case of blood samples collection for example.

What’s differente here is that the patient’s identity is not recorded, a completely anonymous sample identifier is generated instead: the patient’s @unikname CARE ID. This identifier allows the patient to later retrieve the result of their test. The @uniknameID is not accessible to the laboratory: using the my.unikname.app, the lab only obtains a QR Code that is attached to the sample itself. Then, the laboratory publishes the test results on the dedicated blockchain uns.network via an API or a dedicated application.

The whole community will then be able to have real-time access to anonymized data on the evolution of collective immunity, by city, district, state, and thus enable Public Health players to make decisions for the protection of the population.

All health professionals will also be able to use this data to develop new products and services, adapt their organization, deploy supply, etc. Every citizen will be able to have transparent access to the results of their contribution by making visible this enemy that until then had remained invisible.

And to go even further, the protocol enable the sharing of useful information such as symptom detection, or self-medication data, as part of a citizen initiative.

A governance shared between 23 actors to ensure the independence of the system

The Unikname C.A.R.E™ protocol is built on an implementation of the uns.network blockchain, the blockchain at the origin of Unikname privacy solutions. It is itself built on the French ARK.IO blockchain with which Unikname has formed a partnership. It is a semi-public blockchain and uses elected delegates (DPOS) for validation. This approach does not require large-scale mining nor a large amount of computing power to integrate data as it is the case with the Bitcoin blockchain. Thus it eliminates any issue related to the energy footprint of such a solution.

Furthermore, all guarantees have been taken with regard to the governance of this blockchain in order to ensure that it cannot comes under the control of a single player or a small group of players who would like to change its operating rules. The system designed by Unikname share this governance among 23 players splitted in 3 colleges:

The first college is made up of 10 organizations and companies, that could include the European Union, the second college is made of 10 personalities committed to the defense of individual freedom, and, finally, the third college is composed of 3 community players designated by the foundation dedicated to the governance of the network.

Institutional organizations such as the WHO, laboratories or state organizations will be able to operate a node of the uns.network blockchain and make their technical contribution. Above all, they will provide guarantees as to the security and resilience of the network, without being able to take control of it. The decentralized nature of the blockchain’s technology will allow a rapid ramp-up and absorption of millions of new users and screening data as the testing campaign takes off in France. The solution may also be applicable in other countries.

The uns.network blockchain will be live on May 4

Having been in testing for more than 6 months, this blockchain will be officially launched on May 4, 2020, in accordance with the initial roadmap established by Unikname. This protocol is based on 24 months of R&D that focused on personal data protection issues and on pilot projects carried out with several players including banks and health insurance companies.

Among the assets of Unikname C.A.R.E™ are:

  • No Tracking: the impossibility of tracking citizens.
  • Anonymous transparency: provision of completely anonymous, inviolable and transparent epidemic data via the blockchain.
  • Open Data: open-access data, in real time, for the scientific community but also for public health institutions, professionals and citizens themselves.
  • Scalability: a decentralized architecture that makes the solution usable on a European scale
  • Ease of Adoption: Testing laboratories will be able to explain the mechanism to patients when they come to get tested.
  • Citizen initiative : Each citizens is empowered to contribute for the benefits of the whole society, as he or she alone has the key to access their test result, and present them at the request of their doctor or public authorities.

Unikname C.A.R.E™ is a unique opportunity for massive adoption of a blockchain for an application other than cryptocurrency. This protocol can be expanded to other contamination tests. The user is free to use their @uniknameID, as a universal anonymous identifier. They will be able to reuse it freely to access any Internet or mobile platform that does not require the identity of the user in a secure and confidential manner.

Unikname C.A.R.E™ is the acronym of Citizen.Anonymous.Reporting.Epidemic.

Today, we are calling for skilled individuals and organizations so that all the potential players working to lift the coronavirus lockdown measures form a taskforce with us to make the Unikname C.A.R.E™ protocol quickly operational. Medical laboratories, health software editor and distributors, health data processing specialists, public health professionals, research organizations, are invited to join us or exchange on the project via the dedicated Unikname C.A.R.E™ discussion forum that we have just put online for them.