Blind Poker in a Pandemic
Why Secure Multi-Party Computation (SMPC) is critical to saving privacy, the economy, and the world
As COVID-19 wracks the world, most countries have enacted some form of non-essential business shutdown and/or social distancing protocols to stop the spread of this lethal virus. These measures have had a dramatic impact on the global economy, ensuring that countries like the United States have seen sharp declines in their GDP at levels unseen since the Great Depression.
Shutdown and social distancing are largely efforts to deal with COVID’s high rate of transmission (currently understood to be over twice that of the 1918 H1N1 pandemic in some strains/locations) and a lack of readily available testing at scale. Without a way to effectively test and track sick people, it is impossible to check the spread of COVID without social distancing and economic shutdowns. As such, many governments have begun sweeping efforts to create testing and tracking programs for people infected or exposed to COVID-infected individuals that work at a national scale.
Contact tracing: privacy vs. protection?
The difficulties of testing people are something best left for another post. This post focuses specifically on contact tracing, the practice of tracking those who have tested positive for a virus like COVID-19, and modelling transmission accurately among a population.
Contact tracing is not new. The practice of tracking the transmission of disease among a populace goes back as far as the 19th century when early attempts at contact tracing were used to model the transmission of tuberculosis.
What has changed over the last two hundred years is technology. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices and a person’s online connectivity, organizations and governments have an unparalleled ability to surveil an infected person to warn others who may have been infected to test and quarantine themselves to stop outbreaks.
Such widespread surveillance is not without risk. During the rise of HIV, attempts to conduct contact tracing led to the disclosure of HIV-positive individuals — publicity that led to social persecution and discrimination as seen in the case of Geoffrey…