A note on blind contact tracing at scale with applications to the COVID-19 pandemic

TitleA note on blind contact tracing at scale with applications to the COVID-19 pandemic
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsFitzsimons, JK, Mantri, A, Pisarczyk, R, Rainforth, T, Zhao, Z
Date Published4/10/2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic highlights the utility of contact tracing, when combined with case isolation and social distancing, as an important tool for mitigating the spread of a disease [1]. Contact tracing provides a mechanism of identifying individuals with a high likelihood of previous exposure to a contagious disease, allowing additional precautions to be put in place to prevent continued transmission. Here we consider a cryptographic approach to contact tracing based on secure two-party computation (2PC). We begin by considering the problem of comparing a set of location histories held by two parties to determine whether they have come within some threshold distance while at the same time maintaining the privacy of the location histories. We propose a solution to this problem using pre-shared keys, adapted from an equality testing protocol due to Ishai et al [2]. We discuss how this protocol can be used to maintain privacy within practical contact tracing scenarios, including both app-based approaches and approaches which leverage location history held by telecoms and internet service providers. We examine the efficiency of this approach and show that existing infrastructure is sufficient to support anonymised contact tracing at a national level.