University of Washington to Help DHS Develop COVID-19 Digital Contact Tracing App Testing Criteria

During the current COVID-19 pandemic there are many efforts to apply smartphone-based technologies to automate the contact tracing and exposure notification process. However, the technical approaches have privacy and civil liberty implications. Through its Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) awarded $959,305 to the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (UW-APL) to bring together a group of experts and trusted entities to develop digital contact tracing (DCT) application (app) testing criteria, as well as explore and develop policy considerations for the use of this technology to ensure privacy and civil liberties are protected now and in the future.

“With DCT apps we recognized that there’s a need for a clear, consistent, and common set of privacy and security test criteria,” said Melissa Oh, SVIP managing director. “By bringing together a diverse, inclusive group of experts, our goal is to openly develop test criteria that are publicly accepted, trusted and utilized.”

This work is happening in conjunction with the recent SVIP Phase 1 award to AppCensus under the Emerging Needs: COVID-19 Response & Future Mitigation solicitation. While the AppCensus project is focused on adapting their infrastructure to enable DCT app testing, the focus of this expert group is to determine what needs to be tested in DCT apps and to explore the policy implications of the use of DCT technologies.

“Acceptance of DCT app testing results is entirely predicated on the confidence the public has in the test criteria, as well the process and the people involved in its development,” said Anil John, SVIP technical director. “University of Washington will help DHS convene expert and publicly trusted individuals and entities that bring expertise, rigor, and credibility while representing the diversity of the people and viewpoints that are critically needed in such an undertaking.”

The UW-APL will leverage its national and international networks, partnerships, and relationships to manage and facilitate this process, which needs to be broadly inclusive and in the public interest. It will assist DHS as a secretariat in convening an open, inclusive process that brings together domain experts and publicly trusted entities to rapidly develop a clear and consistent set of efficacy, security, privacy and usability criteria. DCT app testing capability providers can utilize the criteria to test DCT and exposure notification apps as well as explore and develop current and future policy considerations for the use of this technology.

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