International Pandemic Contact Tracing Standards Group Formed

May 12, 2020

The formation of an international pandemic contact tracing standards group was announced yesterday. Designated E4P, it is being established as an open public-private initiative under ETSI to “develop a framework and consistent set of specifications for proximity tracing systems, to enable the development of applications and platforms, and to facilitate international interoperability” that also provide for privacy protection.

ETSI is ideally placed to undertake the work with the necessary stature, leadership, and resources. It hosts the largest ICT standards activities in the world for an array of highly-active work on mobile, fixed, and Internet networks and services — including 5G. It exists as both a global standards body as well as the European Union’s approved standards arm for some normative areas. Its specifications, reports, and guides are open and freely available online with permanent, well-versioned identifiers and code templates. It has a proven record of developing global consensus-based standards very quickly. It conducts standards testing services to demonstrate the effectiveness and undertake improvements. It has long operated on the cutting edge of technology across almost every market segment. It is privacy sensitive. It also proactively collaborates with almost every other ICT standards body in the field. It operates virtually on a global scale.

ETSI itself has more than 900 members from 65 different countries that include government agencies, private companies, and academic organizations. However, the pandemic contact tracing activity is being formed as what is known as an Industry Specification Group (ISG), which does not require ETSI membership and operates more flexibly. Several years ago, ETSI began creating ISGs for 5G related specialized tasks such as 5G virtualization — which brought hundreds of companies and organizations together to kick start 5G’s basic platform. Anyone can join the pandemic contact tracing group simply by going to the E4P group portal, selecting Member or Participant, and completing the online form. Its initial meeting will occur on 26 May.

Given the ongoing global pandemic, the importance and timeliness of the group is worth emphasis. Globalregional, and national health and disease control bodies worldwide have been underscoring the critical importance of effective contact tracing to control the spread of viruses. The challenges will exist for a long time — likely indefinitely. Yet at the moment, the contact tracing ecosystem is in chaotic disarray with hundreds of insular projects and platforms being instantiated all over the world. There is a significant lack of awareness of each other, much less interoperability, comparability, or consideration of privacy. The new E4P group should provide an effective means to deal with a critical global need. Hopefully, the many diverse national and private efforts will see the value in international cooperation and participate in E4P.