Earlier this month, Spain published as open source the code for its Covid-19 track and trace application. Publication of the source code came just a few days after an online manifesto gathered more than one hundred signatures from academics and researchers at universities across the country. The manifesto calls on the government to “implement open processes to allow society to participate.”
The manifesto, now signed by 235 scientists, explains that the Covid application (entitled Radar Covid) is an example of a new generation of public infrastructure. Such an infrastructure requires the “publication of documentation and code to be scrutinised by the scientific community and civil society, to let them identify areas for improvement, contribute to development, and deploy democratic, inclusive digital solution that conform to the highest standards.”
“In a society as heterogeneous as Spain, this co-creation will only be successful with the help of experts from various disciplines,” the scientist state in their manifesto. “No technology is without failures and therefore multidisciplinary scrutiny is necessary to achieve the best result. Only the joint interdisciplinary effort and including of civil society can efficiently identify potential biases and errors in the conceptualisation and implementation of the application that may lead to undesired effects in terms of discrimination and violation of rights.”
Exercise in openness
The source code of the five components - including apps for Android and Apple devices - for Radar Covid was made available on GitHub on 9 September. In a statement, the ministry for the Economy and Digital Transformation reflected the scientists’ request: “[Making the source available] is an exercise in openness so that the operation of the application can be audited openly and directly by the public. The goal is for anyone to submit comments and suggestions that help improve this tool.”
According to the ministry, it should also help to show how the components interact, giving citizens “the confidence that security and privacy have been core principles in the creation of this tool to protect against Covid.”
The ministry published the code under the Mozilla public licence 2.0. The same licence is used for the dp³t project, the open protocol that uses smartphones’ Bluethooth signals to track and trace users of Covid apps.