April 23, 2020

Proximity tracing to manage the coronavirus pandemic: Fraunhofer proposes a German approach

Proximity-tracing apps represent a digital option for the current coronavirus pandemic. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has proposed an approach for a German proximity-tracing app. This approach enables digital notification of individuals at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, through spatiotemporal distance measurements based on Bluetooth technology on mobile phones. The resulting IT system offers digital support to the existing processes of health authorities.

The key to the digital approach is spatiotemporal distance measurement using Bluetooth technology on mobile phones. The functionality of the technical system is derived from the legal mandate of health authorities. For example, for implementation by the Robert Koch Institute, it must fulfil a number of special features, which are directly addressed in the project.

Work on the German approach began in early March 2020. This was funded by individual participants and supplemented by basic funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and a feasibility study by the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG). From the outset, the aim of the project was to create a pan-European proximity-tracing solution that conforms to data protection requirements. The functionality and reliability of the system has already been assessed in initial field tests in cooperation with the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces). More recently, cooperation with French partners in the development of the system has intensified and full compatibility has been achieved. Within the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the following institutes are involved: Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute, HHI; Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security AISEC; and Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS. To maximize the compatibility with end devices on the market, technical cooperation is being sought with operating system providers Google and Apple.

This approach is based on the conviction that the public health system must have sovereignty over the criteria through which risk calculations, recommendations for action, and feedback within such a system are made. The designed system ensures that no personal data such as location information, telephone numbers, names, etc., are collected or processed when using the app. The use of the potential system is voluntary via an app that can be installed and uninstalled at any time (without the server knowing who deactivated the app). For registration, no personal data from the user—such as name or telephone number—is required. The design of the system is a data-conserving approach and conforms to data protection regulations.

You can find more information in the German version.