The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Using what is called the Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), DHS has issued a proposal titled ‘Emerging Needs: Covid-19 Response & Future Mitigation’ with applications due by September 30, 2020. Based in California’s Silicon Valley, DHS looks to harness the commercial R&D ecosystem for technologies with government applications to tackle some of the hardest problems it faces.
Problems don’t get much harder these days than Covid-19, particularly with respect to how we guard our privacy and flatten the curve of a pandemic at the same time. In the proposal, DHS states, “In looking over many of the proposed technical approaches within the U.S., and implemented by non-U.S. jurisdictions, DHS has concerns … contact tracing has significant privacy and civil liberty implications”.
The agency further notes the proposal is not only a way to seek America’s tech entrepreneurs to find a solution to this challenge, but also, “…to raise awareness and by doing so mitigate these potential harms posed by these applications to U.S. persons, DHS is seeking to enable a robust application testing ecosystem.” The vision of such an ecosystem will have, “…contact tracing applications to ensure that they are constrained to the designated and authorized purpose, and do not leak, share or in some other manner utilize the data that they have access to either directly or indirectly to compromise the privacy, security or civil liberties of the individuals who have entrusted their sensitive and personal information to them”.
The proposal not only discusses contact tracing, but four other use cases that cover video analytics for self-screening at airports, ways to rapidly disinfect surfaces at TSA checkpoints, ways to collect authoritative open-source information, and stand-off methods for point of entry detention at DHS facilities.
“As DHS, state and local agencies, private industry and the public respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually resume operations safely within the context of a COVID-19 environment, there exists the need for solutions for a variety of purposes across DHS as well as our state and local and other Federal partners.”
The SVIP program offers up to $800,000 in funding and opportunities to contract with the federal government as well – given what is at stake and knowing how travel pre-Covid was never the most comfortable or pleasant to begin with, hopefully this call will see private sector entrepreneurs who can provide safety, privacy, as well as comfort for future airline travel.