Singapore government to open source contact-tracing protocol

Singapore’s Government Technology Agency is contributing the source codes of the BlueTrace protocol that powers its contact-tracing app

Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech) is contributing the source codes of the protocol that powers the TraceTogther contact-tracing app to the open source community to help stem the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Launched on 20 March 2020, TraceTogether works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating users in close proximity using the BlueTrace protocol developed by GovTech.

The development team behind the protocol said in its manifesto that mobile apps and wearable devices that deploy the BlueTrace protocol will be able to blend decentralised and centralised models of contact tracing.

“The collection and logging of encounter/proximity data between devices that implement BlueTrace is done in a peer-to-peer, decentralised fashion, to preserve privacy,” they said.

“At the same time, the analysis and the provision of epidemic control guidance is done centrally by a trusted public health authority, committed to driving adoption. Sovereignty is respected through a federated model among a network of participating countries and public health authorities.”

Privacy safeguards

Users have to give explicit consent to participate in TraceTogether, and for their mobile number and TraceTogether data to be used for contact tracing. This consent is provided during the initial setup of the app.

When requested by contact tracers from Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH), users can send encrypted logs comprising cryptographically generated temporary IDs to facilitate the contact tracing process.

Up to that point, the authorities, including MOH and GovTech, have no knowledge of the user’s TraceTogether data. The TraceTogether logs are only decrypted and analysed after the user sends the information.

No other personal detail, such as the user’s name, is collected. TraceTogether, which took some 40 developers over 10,000 man-hours to build, does not collect or use location data and does not access a user’s phone contact list or address book.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Singapore’s foreign affairs minister and minister-in-charge of the smart nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan revealed that TraceTogther has been downloaded by more than 620,000 users.

He noted that GovTech is now working around the clock to finalise the BlueTrace protocol’s reference documents and reference implementation, so that others may deploy their own flavours of TraceTogether.

“We believe that making our code available to the world will enhance trust and collaboration in dealing with a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems or economies,” he said.

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