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App Immuni, professor Battiato (Unict): «Lack of transparency»


«Technology can give us a concrete hand, even if the issue of privacy protection remains central and a little more transparency on the government's choice for the Immuni application that will have to trace our contacts would not have been bad». Professor Sebastiano Battiato, who together with Filippo Stanco at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science of the University of Catania coordinates a working group on the use of new technologies on the tracking and tracing of contagion, is waiting to learn more, like many Italians, on the choice of the Immuni application among all the proposals received by the call launched by the government. And on the "free license agreement for the use of the contact tracing software and the free service contract with the Milanese company Bending Spoons Spa" prepared by the emergency commissioner Domenico Arcuri.

But one thing is for sure. «Now - he says - it takes a great test of maturity by the population. The challenge is to be able to involve at least 60% of the population, 36 million people, or it will be useless. And we hope that the infrastructure on which the application is based will be able to support. What happened recently to the INPS website must not be repeated».

Professor, are sentinel applications really necessary? «Singapore or South Korea, where the use of technology, together with other containment measures, has managed to lower the contagion curve, act as" school cases"».

Are we ready? «We don't have the same cultural approach. In the West we are still facing the epidemic with the means of the last century. As a technician, I hope that a consistent and fair use of existing technology can help even if we have been slow to react. Now there are the solutions».


Too many too. 319 proposals arrived at the government call. «Many companies and universities responded. Yesterday the government chose a contact tracing solution based on Bluetooth, a technically less invasive solution. It does not include geo-location, used instead in Korea. We also decided to monitor on a voluntary basis, following the EU guidelines on privacy».

It will be enough? Many fear for their privacy. «I understand the fears, in fact we do not have technical knowledge on the computer security mechanisms that whoever won the race will put on the carpet. The problem of data leaks is always there. Let's say that even in the call there is a lack of transparency. A ranking was not made public, nor the criteria by which the choice was made».

There are those who think of a Big Brother. «For the World Health Organization, the only way we have to fight contagion is to trace the contacts of individuals with the positives. At the moment it is done with a questionnaire, asking the positive to rebuild his life in the previous 15 days. But it is difficult to remember exactly paths and contacts. The technology automatically and aseptically would do it perfectly. It is clear that confidentiality is a fundamental right. We have a very guaranteed legislation. In Italy, even in investigations, the acquisition of telephone records with respect to the geo-location of the cells to which it was attached requires authorization from the judicial authority. The same Gdpr authorizes the use of measures of this type only in exceptional circumstances for a limited time».


Who will manage the Immuni platform? «The company has undertaken to transfer the license to use for free, but it seems to remain the owner of the technology. Some details will have to be clarified, it will be necessary to experience it. Academically, I would have preferred an organization of scientists to ask for support. At the moment there are two big movements in the world, one in the US which belongs to MIT in Boston and one in Europe, which are studying the problem to make sure that the data that users will have to give to the authority is protected in the best possible way».

How does tracing work with Bluetooth? «My device will look for other devices willing to talk. When two subjects who have the app installed come into contact, their devices will register each other through a numeric code. So all the devices that have come within range will remain tracked within each phone».

And what will the app tell us? «He will tell us if we have come into contact with someone positive, but we have to see how. It could only tell us that in the last few days we have had contacts at risk, or it could also provide us with the time and date of the contacts, which would allow us to trace also where. In this case, there is a risk of losing the anonymization in part. We'll see».

Did you at the University of Catania participate in the call in partnership with the MIT group? «Yes, but evidently there were also patriotic reasons in the choice, it is a strategic theme».

Does the app of the Region, Sicilia Si Cura not allow tracking? «No, it is a sort of electronic diary recommended to quarantined and returned from the north with the aim of having a daily indication of their health. The app chosen by the national government, on the other hand, would integrate both functions, also allowing people in home isolation to be able to report symptoms and allow them to intervene faster».

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