Mobility and privacy, getting safely back to business - with our liberty and health protected.

by Ben Barnett

I was torn on whether or not to write this blog. There is so much noise and many more able and talented people taking the fight to this virus so it’s easy to struggle with imposter syndrome. It’s very easy to appear self-serving! It’s hard to cut through the noise and inevitably by writing something you contribute to more of it. But what if you really think you can help…

The difficulties of this situation are extraordinarily well documented. To put the quandary down as a simple trade-off between health and wealth is over-simplification, but to some extent captures the core of the issue the world is grappling with. 

On the one hand, we are dealing with a disease both contagious and deadly and becoming increasingly desensitised to high numbers of deaths every day – yet numbers that are only a fraction of what they might have been if unprecedented and draconian policies had not been implemented and enforced.

On the other hand, it seems inevitable that we will have debts untold in a time of peace, that will take decades to recover from. Global recession is inevitable. Businesses and the salaried workforce are also struggling for survival and treasuries, like health services around the world, simply don’t have the metaphorical protective equipment to go around.

As Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government, declared recently, there are only two ways out of the crisis proper. Drugs or vaccines. Powerful ones at that, and not ones we can definitely put a timeframe on. But they’re highly unlikely to be available at scale in 2020.

Neither the population or the economy can remain on life support for that long. We will inevitably have to take some tentative steps into no-man’s land while we know the enemy is still there and can still hurt us. So is there anything that can give us some courage as we lift our heads above the parapet?

There are rays of light. The disease does not result in severe illness for most people, and we have an increasingly good idea from the data now on who is at risk and absolutely needs to be protected. What to do and how to act if you do have symptoms is now extraordinarily well understood. People are, by and large, self-policing. It is again crude, but also probably fair, to say that the majority of wealth generators, the people who can get back into the workplace and start firing up the economy, fall into the low risk categories. With good, clear permissions and policing of them, it should be possible to manage risk and promote enterprise.

Exactly what is lifted, how and when will be policy decisions, and difficult ones. Ones that will be scrutinised and debated. No doubt the lid will be lifted and replaced at various stages over the coming months and, dare we say it, years. We won’t be able to judge who got it right for quite some time.

Folio is not a political organisation but a technology company. We’ve been building technology that can easily be adapted right now to fit an even bigger social purpose than the right to prove your identity. In just weeks Mercedes pivoted its engineers and manufacturing lines to develop CPAP machines and save lives. In our own way, we have been manoeuvring ourselves to do something similar.


As regards the back-to-business discussion:

 

  • What if you could remotely prove your identity to someone?
  • What if that someone could then automatically tie you to a set of credentials like age, address, medical history, (whisper) antibody test results?
  • What if, based on these attributes, you could then be remotely issued a digital pass with rights and permissions that could allow you to get out of the house, with all of the associated social and economic benefits?
  • What if all of this could be executed in such a way that preserves your privacy, where your pass is tied to you, accessible only to you and only shared when you say so and with whom you want or need to?
  • What if the infrastructure were already there and wouldn’t take months or even years to build, and at low-cost?

 

For many years now, the conversation around digital identity has rightly been scrutinised around important topics like civil liberties and interoperability. But the same conversations have been had ad infinitum, to the point that discussions in some countries have ground to a depressing halt. All too often the enormous social, political and economic benefits are either overlooked, forgotten or extraordinarily poorly articulated to the most important stakeholder group. You, the citizen.

It can be done right, it can be privacy-preserving and it can have a transformational impact. It can open up not just the digital economy but, as we can now see, the physical one too.

There has never been a more compelling time to put international, inter-departmental and party politics aside, and act for the benefit of all.

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