Hacking COVID: Hackers helping the government

Brenno de Winter and Ron Roozendaal

Playlists: 'MCH2022' videos starting here / audio

During the COVID19-pandemic the Netherlands turned to hackers to help them make digital solutions to fight the pandemic. Why was it? What does this do to a government body like ministry? What does this mean for privacy, security and the tech choices that are made?

In 2020, when the pandemic started, scientists suggested to also digitally support fighting the pandemic. One of the suggestions was digitally supported contact tracing. After first asking the market for solutions the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport decided to self build open, privacy friendly, secure and accessible solutions with help of a large open source community.

When vaccinations became available and timeframes for building solutions were near impossible the next step was clear: get hackers involved. This isn’t just to stick to the values, but also to create solutions in ways that aren’t always common for governments. How do you hack processes and rules to create what some ministries called magic?

This talk will tell the inside hacker tale of the pandemic and show the dilemmas that were overcome. This is a story of hackers in a ministry at the heat of the moment.