On 1 October 2020, the Estonian Government confirmed iats partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) for a blockchain-based COVID-19 vaccination certificate solution, as Bloomberg reported. Estonian enterprise blockchain firm Guardtime, now headquartered in Switzerland, will lead the pilot, firstly testing the possibility of a global scale platform in ‘pathfinder countries.’
A memorandum of understanding will be signed digitally by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas and WHO President Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus next Monday. It allows Estonian entrepreneurs and researchers to start work on the project. Ratas said, “Estonia can offer its best experience to a global organization to accelerate the safe and reliable flow of information between countries.”
Estonia’s government is one of the most digitally advanced, and Guardtime has worked on many key e-government projects.
“We have the opportunity to raise to international level the principles of decentralized governance on which the success of the entire Estonian digital state is based,” said Ratas.
The platform will be based on blockchain technology, creating digital vaccination certificates to serve as proof for those who have had the coronavirus vaccination. The vaccination will be distributed amongst priority groups, such as the elderly. The first step of the project involves a digital “yellow vaccination card,” to be used globally once a vaccination has been found. The card will enable the international exchange of vaccination data, while blockchain technology ensures its reliability and transparency.
Ratas also confirmed they will be working towards introducing X-Road for cross-border health data exchange, allowing WHO and other EU Member States to establish international services. X-Road is Estonia’s open-source software and ecosystem solution for data exchange.
Embedded Decentralized Privacy
Estonia’s efforts amidst the pandemic include the public-private development of a COVID-19 app HOIA, the name of which means ‘take care.’ Launched on 20 August, the app notifies users if they’ve been near an infected individual. The Government announcement of HOIA stressed the app’s data is not seen by users, the state, or even HOIA’s creator. It does not monitor user locations, and the only data that is processed is used to check whether the user who has marked themselves as infected is indeed ill with the virus.
When researching for a potential COVID-19 app, Estonia looked to other countries. It specifically focused on the principle of privacy, noting which states used centralized networks and stored data visible to governments. Estonia chose to use a decentralized method instead, using a Swiss decentralized privacy-preserving proximity tracing protocol, called DP-3T. This suggests Estonia will also prioritize the principle of privacy in its partnership with WHO.
Guardtime has been involved in projects with private companies and governments all around the world, although working with the WHO might be its biggest challenge to date.
Head of Guardtime in the Tallinn branch Ain Aaviksoo says the challenge will be in the project’s scale, as it might need to be available to billions of people. “What we’re offering to the WHO is speed. The solution has been tested by the U.S. Government, telecoms companies, and others in terms of onboarding a massive number of parties and the stability of the system,” Aaviksoo told Bloomberg. In terms of implementation speed, Aavikso claims Guardtime is about a year ahead of its rivals.
Last year Guardtime partnered with a U.S. Government’s IT Consultancy, DMI, to provide its enterprise blockchain capability on an AI project. In the same year, it was awarded a contract with EY to help in an AI/blockchain project for results-based health payments. Most notably, Guardtime recently formed a consortium with Swiss security firm SICPA and French health data platform OpenHealth to develop a blockchain-based COVID-19 health passport. The solution will issue and manage health passports with real-time monitoring of immunity levels among the population. With their expansive experience dealing with large-scale projects alongside governments and other private entities, Guardtime appears well-equipped to lead the WHO initiative.