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Open University develops digital certificate for Covid-19 immunity

29/04/20

Mark Say Managing Editor

A team at the Open University (OU) has claimed a world first in developing a digital application using blockchain technology to certify Covid-19 immunity test results.

Woman using digital certificate on smartphone

Researchers from the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute have created a prototype mobile phone app, which is currently undergoing testing, to enable verification of tamper-proof test results and vaccination certificates.

It said that, although immunity tests are still a work in progress, the prototype would enable GPs and pharmacists to carry out tests and issue digital certificates through the app.

It could be used by frontline staff and the public to prove they have antibodies and are immune to coronavirus. This could be used to verify their fitness to work in certain environments and to travel.

The immunity certificates involves the use of a solid pod – a decentralised personal data store using the W3C Verifiable Credentials standard – and consortium blockchain which holds encoded hashes of certificates to serve as an immutable and trusted registry. The latter also acts as a decentralised public key registry for signing all transactions.

Proof and hash

The holder would have to provide proof of identity before testing, with the decentralised identity being hashed and sent to the blockchain. If the person is immune the GP or pharmacist would issue the immunity certificate to the solid pod on the phone.

When a verifier needs to check the person’s immunity they would use their own phone to check the certificate, sending a hashed version to the blockchain to match it against the identity.

The system uses a distributed server architecture to provide instant verification of the test results, and personal information is only stored at the patient’s discretion, allowing them to be selective in presenting test results.

Professor John Domingue, director of the Knowledge Media Institute, said: “Like many researchers, the OU’s blockchain team have been highly motivated to contribute to resolving this global pandemic. We’ve been looking at how our existing technology could be repurposed to aid immunity certification.

“Our app, building on several years of research into decentralised certification, is readily scalable, applicable generically, and waiting in the wings for immunity testing to be in full effect.”

Image from Open University

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