2 November 2017

ADAMS & EVES: Jonas Plass & his quest for anti-doping to embrace new technology

At a recent Westminster Forum conference in London, CEO of the World Olympians Association (WOA) Mike Miller was forced to defend his comments suggesting that sport should consider microchipping athletes. Unfortunately, alarmist articles in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph obliterated any sensible debate about how sport could make the lives of athletes easier by embracing new technology, which was Miller’s point, as The Sport Integrity Initiative reported. It is a subject with which Jonas Plass, a former 400m runner, is all too familiar.

Plass developed the Privacy-enhancing And Reliable Anti-Doping Integrated Service Environment (PARADISE) with researchers from two Fraunhofer Institutes and the Technical University of Berlin. “It was part of my MA in 2012”, he explains, adding that the project has received funding from the German Federal Government. It involves a wearable GPS tag that will allow Doping Control Officers (DCOs) to locate athletes for testing, while freeing athletes from the rigmarole and privacy dangers of having to enter their exact location (for one hour each day) into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS).

How PARADISE works

PARADISE utilises a wearable GPS positioning device to initially give an athlete’s rough location to a DCO, who receives the exact location only once they are within four kilometres of the athlete. It also features designated private areas (such as graveyards) and allows athletes to add private areas where they cannot be located with the highest accuracy. The DCO would then have to call the athlete to agree on a meeting point.

Under the ADAMS system, athletes selected to be part of a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) are required to file their location for one hour each day. If there are three instances where Doping Control Officer (DCO) cannot locate them at their stated location – or if they fail to correctly file whereabouts data – three times in one year, they face a two-year ban (this is explained in detail below). By using wearable GPS technology to enable DCOs to locate athletes, the PARADISE system would remove the need for detailed whereabouts filings.

“PARADISE is the name of the project and the platform, Eves is the client wearable”, explains Plass. “At the first stage, the usage of the wearable has to be on a voluntary basis. We asked athletes in late 2014 what they think about GPS use in doping control. Sixty percent really welcomed it, but 30% showed serious concerns.

“We figured that if it is on a voluntary basis, those that hate the idea of a wearable can still manually file their whereabouts into PARADISE, which, compared to ADAMS, offers a lot more privacy features. Those who use the wearable have to carry it all the time. It is in their interest to be findable by a DCO. The whereabouts that they would have to file are only a light version of what ADAMS requires at the moment.”

The PARADISE project has been developed in association with the Schleswig-Holstein State Centre for Data Protection. Its developers argue that by reducing the amount of data collected, using dedicated data and ensuring greater data security, the system ensures that the privacy of athletes is better protected than it is within the current ADAMS system.

ADAMS & its issues

To fully understand why PARADISE could present a better solution for athletes than ADAMS, a brief explanation of how ADAMS works is necessary. Apologies in advance for the acronyms, but these are a common feature of WADA’s regulations. Under WADA’s International Standard for Testing and Investigations (ISTI), which is mandatory for Anti-Doping Organisations (ADOs) that have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code, ADOs must establish a Test Distribution Plan (TDP) including a Registered Testing Pool (RTP).

ADOs are given discretion as to who should be included in that RTP, but it should include elite athletes from which the ADO plans to collect more than three out-of-competition (OOC) samples per year. Under the ISTI, athletes included in the RTP are required to provide ‘whereabouts’ information each quarter of the year in advance, indicating where they will be available for testing for one hour in each 24 hour day (although the locations can be later amended).

WADA recognises the possibility that ADOs could use a system other than ADAMS to collect data on athlete whereabouts. ‘The whereabouts information they provide while in the Registered Testing Pool will be accessible, through ADAMS or another system approved by WADA, to WADA and to other Anti-Doping Organizations having authority to test the Athlete’, states the ISTI. Under Article 2.4 of the World Anti-Doping Code, ‘any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures, as defined in the International Standard for Testing and Investigations [ISTI], within a twelve-month period’ constitutes a ‘whereabouts failure’, and is subject to a two-year ban (Article 10.3.2 of the Code).

If an ADO uses ADAMS, athletes within its RTP must log in and record their whereabouts for one hour each day, in advance, for the next three months. Although locations can later be amended, this is an onerous requirement. It also causes a number of privacy concerns.

‘Only anti-doping organizations authorized to test the athlete can access his/her data’, states WADA. ‘The organization “responsible” (custodian) for the athlete is responsible for providing access rights. For example, if UK Sport creates a profile for a UK athlete in ADAMS, UK Sport will be qualified as the “custodian” of the relevant athlete’s records and is designated as such in ADAMS. UK Sport may grant other ADOs, such as an ADO where the athlete train or competes, access to certain information of the relevant athlete (e.g., whereabouts training or test planning information). In such case, ADAMS lets athletes know which entities have access to their information.’

“At the moment in Germany, technically all DCOs can access all the whereabouts of all athletes at any time, although they are not allowed to”, states Plass. “In the future, in the past. This is something that shouldn’t be allowed. Our system has limited the access, because what lies in the past is not relevant to the DCO.”

Obviously, this is of concern to data protection regulators. Back in 2013, European body the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party, which is made up of European data protection government ministers, warned that the then-planned 2015 World Anti-Doping Code and ISTI did not respect European data protection laws, outlining a number of specific issues including the ‘whereabouts’ requirements. Following hacks into anti-doping systems by Fancy Bears, concerns have intensified as to whether ADOs are offering adequate protection to athlete data.

At its Foundation Board meeting in November last year, WADA admitted that it had spent US$200,000 on updating the ADAMS system following continued hacks by Fancy Bears. It also said that it wished to move towards ‘paperless’ anti-doping – something the PARADISE system could help facilitate. WADA’s unscheduled update caused issues with athletes being unable to log in to file their whereabouts – a potential sanctioning time bomb. “Athletes are angry”, Lars Mortsiefer, Legal Director of Germany’s National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), told The Sports Integrity Initiative. “ADAMS is not safe at the moment”.

ADAMS was first launched in 2005, however considering its central role in managing anti-doping, information on how much it costs or how it is developed is scarce, explains Plass. “I was told back in 2014 that ADAMS used to be a software used in the field of health”, he says. “As I was told, WADA had bought this software which was used for patients with similar illnesses so that they could meet. I don’t know the details, but obviously they are adapting it step-by-step to the existing requirements.”

Engagement with WADA

“The next step has to be a presentation for WADA”, states Plass. “We want to meet with them and present the project to them. What we have experienced is that it needs a lot of explanation, especially when you talk about localisation technology, as everybody is thinking about the evils of tracking people. You always have to explain that it is better than the current system.”

Plass has recently returned from the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) Athlete & Leader Symposium, where he presented the PARADISE Project to the world’s national anti-doping organisations (NADOs). ‘NADOs must be dedicated to seeking athlete advice in formulating and executing best-practice anti-doping’, read a statement following the Symposium. ‘That includes technological innovation. The majority of athletes would be open to the possibility of GPS technology in place of ADAMS for whereabouts.’ It is understood that iNADO plans to work on developing the PARADISE Project as a credible alternative to ADAMS.

Last year, NADA Germany suggested that the PARADISE Project could provide an alternative to ADAMS and following the iNADO Symposium, support for the idea amounts NADOs appears to be growing. “USADA developed the Simon database, and WADA had to say that it was OK”, explains Plaas. “With more drive, we could go to WADA and say that this is what we have in mind for Germany or other countries, what do you think? They could then tell us what they like and don’t like, and we could enter some kind of dialogue. Then we could ascertain what we need to do.

“There are no guidelines or standards for what a new system has to offer. Everybody is leaving it to WADA to decide if they like it and dictate what should happen next.”

The PARADISE system is also adaptable depending on the needs of the ADO using it. One of the issues that athletes have identified with ADAMS is that the whereabouts requirements are inflexible. For example, all athletes have to file whereabouts information for each day, even when they will remain in the same place.

“When I entered a registered testing pool (RTP), I was in a 72 hour test pool, which meant that I only had to enter my whereabouts if I was away from home for more than 72 hours”, explains Plass. “This is something that we could introduce – perhaps only filing if you are over 200km away from your home, but this is something that we would have to negotiate. This is something that we have to discuss with WADA and the NADOs.”

Unlike ADAMS, PARADISE doesn’t need daily whereabouts information to locate athletes. “We don’t need daily whereabouts, but the DCO needs something to work with to plan their controls”, says Plass. “For example, you might have to file training camps or your parents address, if they live more than 500km away. You still have to file some whereabouts, but only very few.

“You have a time window to conduct the control – for example two weeks – and you can only access the whereabouts and the tracking device. Only the one DCO involved in the mission can do this. The precision requests are locked, so that after a successful doping control, an implemented protocol allows the athlete to see when the DCO requested their position. 

“We want to make the system very transparent, because that is something that ADAMS is lacking right now. Athletes don’t have any idea what is happening in there. They enter their data, but they have no idea who accesses it.”

A question of money

Plass’s frustration at the unwillingness of WADA to engage with new technology is palpable. His presentation to iNADO is encouraging, but it is a hard sell. Although ADOs are free to implement systems other than ADAMS, they would have to pay for such a system, whereas WADA advertises ADAMS as ‘free’ to use.

The reason that ‘free’ is in parenthesis is that, obviously, the system costs WADA money to develop and operate, so it is indirectly funded by national governments and sport, who finance WADA. ADAMS is therefore not technically ‘free’ to ADOs at all, although how much it actually costs is something of a mystery.

WADA’s 2016 Annual Report states that ADAMS ‘represents a significant portion of WADA’s overall budget’ but does not go into further detail, other than listing ADAMS as an ‘intangible asset’ worth US$4.2 million. “I have no idea what the running costs of ADAMS are”, states Plass. “It is very hard to get good information about ADAMS and how it runs, or where it stores its data – for example what is held in Canada and what is held in the athlete’s own country.”

Plass is not blind to the fact that WADA may not be prepared to heavily invest in a new system, however operating PARADISE may be cheaper than operating ADAMS. Plass is upfront about the running costs of PARADISE, however without further information from WADA, it is difficult to make comparisons.

“We guess that it’s about €500,000 per year to keep the project running”, he states. “We are not really expecting WADA to pay for it, since they are offering ADAMS already, but if there are nations that want to get involved, that would be great.”

“The hardware is very costly”, continues Plass. “We have had offers from other Fraunhofer institutes and they told us to make it neat, nice, small, etc. To do that, we would have to pay about €500,000 for a new design of the hardware. To produce one of the wearables costs between €150 and €200. In the end, we said that it isn’t rocket science. It is all normal technology that is already out there, so we are interested in cooperating with somebody – be it Samsung, Telekom, or whoever. Since we have to buy those wearables anyway, there is no sense in paying €500,000 to redesign them. 

“You also need a service hotline to cope with issues such as broken wearables. There will also be staff costs. If only one NADO uses our system, then it will be expensive. I know that there is not €500,000 in Germany for an anti-doping system, when you can have ADAMS for free. The nice thing would be to convince more than one NADO to use the system, then they can split the costs. The costs don’t go up for us if more NADOs are using it. If ten counties use it, then it would only be €50,000 each and that’s absolutely worth it.”

Anti-doping needs innovation

The Fancy Bears attacks into the anti-doping systems of WADA and other ADOs illustrated just how easy it is for sensitive medical data to be manipulated for political purposes when it is illegally accessed. Regardless as to whether it is true, a large section of the public now believes that a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) held by an athlete represents legitimised doping. Holding large amounts of such data is problematic for sporting organisations with a limited budget – and WADA’s annual budget of US$29.7 million is eclipsed by the annual wages of one footballer.

At the moment, WADA’s ADAMS stores data on the location of every athlete within a Registered Testing Pool (RTP) for the next three months. Such data is accessible to any ADO that has responsibility for testing the athlete. This means that large amounts of data regarding athlete locations are potentially being accessed by ADOs around the world. This is a massive security risk, as the Fancy Bears attacks highlighted. PARADISE eliminates that issue by only revealing the athlete’s exact location to a DCO responsible for conducting a test on a specific date.

“I think that the system is great for everyone”, states Plass. “The usability, the security…also I am quite convinced that the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire system would be increased. If we start working on this now, it would be easy to introduce a new system in a year, or a year and a half. But somehow, I wasn’t aware of sports politics…”

It would appear that given the easy newspaper headlines about microchipping athletes like dogs, neither was Mike Miller. However his comments were made at the end of a wider presentation on his view that anti-doping needs to embrace technology to stay ahead of the cheats. “The problem with the current anti-doping system is that all it says is that at a precise moment in time, there are no banned substances in your body”, he said. “We need a system which says we can prove that you are substance abuse free at all times, and also if there are changes in your bio markers, they will be detected…the technology is not quite there yet, but it’s coming.” 

The PARADISE Project could represent the first step along that road, if WADA is prepared to take it.

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