Building applications that alert people in Europe who have been exposed to others with COVID-19 will now be easier thanks to a recent development by a group of EU countries, led by Germany, Ireland and Italy. At the forefront of the solution is an open source technology that makes interoperability possible between countries with different sets of ideas, rules, and processes.

European Federation Gateway Service (EFGS)

The goal of EFGS is to allow Europeans to cross borders safely, with the confidence that their Exposure Notification app will continue to work no matter where they go. As a result, we implemented an interoperability solution for European nations that allows any country that signs up to receive exposure notifications from other jurisdictions. 

The first open source piece created to support building EFGS was sharing the original specifications of the payload. Once we agreed on the shared specifications, led by SAP and T-Systems, we were able to collaborate at an unprecedented pace to get the system stood up. Teams set up weekly conference calls to cover how data control agreements and legal contracts would function. These calls were arduous, but critical to getting alignment across a continent, and the regular, frequent cadence of them kept the project moving forward.

We were especially grateful to have the project be open source when it came time for testing. Because of the transparency that an open source collaboration provides, we were able to pinpoint bugs and have developers work together, quickly, across borders without needing system administrators to grant permissions to access the code. 

As of this week, EFGS is in production in Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Latvia, Denmark and Croatia and next countries scheduled to go live are Czech Republic and Poland with more to follow. In addition the island of Ireland solution based on the same specification (but a different open source implementation) was released on August 31st to support travellers between Ireland (COVID Tracker) and Northern Ireland (Stop COVID NI) app users. This codebase is now being used by NHS to support interoperability between NI, Scotland, England and Wales. We started this process back in early summer, and have it up and running as of this week.

Open source builds trust

Beyond this already challenging scope of work came the task of gaining public buy in. Citizens across the world have expressed skepticism of Exposure Notification and adding cross-border interoperability to the mix contributed additional risks of losing that hard-earned trust. By building the EFGS service using open source specifications, we provided transparency and opportunity for public feedback. People are more motivated to use apps when they understand how their data is being used and open source closed this gap of mistrust.

Additionally, working in an open source fashion helped build trust between teams. We were able to create a community on the Linux Foundation Public Health Slack channel and take advantage of the public health authorities and technology teams already there. Being able to communicate easily across borders helped speed things along.

Open source reopens borders

With over a dozen countries involved in this development process it was truly an achievement to get this service up and running in a few short months. EFGS means people safely commuting across borders, visiting family in neighboring countries, and allowing our economies to continue opening up.

And this couldn’t come at a more critical point in time. With a second wave ramping up in Europe, we need every tool we can get our hands on to fight COVID-19, including Exposure Notification. The EU has always prized its open borders, and we are proud to be contributing to achieving that goal again. 

Now we have a major opportunity to connect people back together physically, while keeping the spread of COVID-19 contained.