Health passports have come to the forefront of the public consciousness as COVID vaccines hit the marketplace. Economies across the globe can open, airlines can accept passengers freely, and citizens can prove they are vaccinated. A digital health passport, also known as a COVID passport, is a technological screening tool that can go anywhere.
As these programs roll out, there are heavy privacy concerns from the public, and legal policy could very well be shaped around this singular item. A health passport is more than a tool to manage COVID-19 vaccinations, and there may be many more risks to these passports than most authorities are willing to admit.
Health Passports Are Trending as COVID-19 Continues to Shape Policy
Health passports are becoming a popular topic of conversation as they emerge around the world and slowly make their way to the United States. The idea simplifies life for anyone who is vaccinated. There is no need for individuals to claim they are vaccinated or others to speculate about vaccination when that fact can be made clear on paper.
As the technology emerges, CLEAR HealthPass undergoes tests in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. The CommonPass project has partnered with governments and NGOs, using sponsorship funds from the World Economic Forum, allowing travel screens in the US, UK, and EU. Taking it further, IBM has the Digital Health Pass and the Linux Foundation has the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative.
There’s no central list of requirements for how a digital health passport or COVID passport should work, so each entity building these applications has their own set of requirements and restrictions.
Unfortunately, every company or entity has its own idea of how a digital health passport should work. The gulf between what is right and what is possible could be tested as these passports pop up in every part of the world.
Health Passport Survey Results
DeleteMe recently completed a survey of 1,100 Americans, asking about the idea of a health passport. Yes, Americans are divided on the subject, but it appears that many of them do not have enough information to make an informed decision.
We’ve compiled our survey results down to the following summary:
- Older Americans are generally more skeptical than younger Americans about health passport technology
- Many respondents under 35 years of age view the health passport as “just another app”
- 47% of Americans support the implementation of health passports even if there are privacy risks
- 39% of Americans oppose health passports all together
- 14% are unsure either way if they approve of or oppose health passports
Given these concerns, U.S. citizens should do everything they can to educate themselves on the topic. Additionally, working with Abine and DeleteMe will help consumers keep their personal information out of the public sphere.
Privacy Concerns Are Very Real
Privacy concerns attached to digital health passports are far-reaching. Healthcare companies are infamous for keeping their user’s data insecure. A survey including 493 COVID-related apps revealed that poor data security was frequently found as a recurring problem. These agencies have been exploiting permissions, mining for as much personal data as possible, and strayed from their mandates to serve the public good.
The risk that this data will be combined with 3rd party data brokers and used in unauthorized ways is very real. Over 80% of the public has lost data to breaches involving public health agencies.
Sadly, discrimination can occur as citizens do not get vaccinated so as to not offend their sensibilities. If citizens cannot travel due to their vaccination status, they may lose their Constitutional rights. Overreach is an equally large problem because a digital health passport could turn into a digital ID, one that Americans rail against every day. It’s not farfetched to think that these digital IDs could one day be required all over.
Besides, identity theft could occur simply because desperate people might steal digital health information to move freely. If not, a black market of vaccination documentation could arise as people attempt to transfer vaccination data for a price.
Be Careful Not to Over-inflate Privacy Concerns
Privacy concerns, as real as they are, should not be overinflated into something that they are not. Yes, a digital ID system could arise, but this is not a hidden plot to create mandated government IDs for the populace. The issue here is that a multi-use ID is already in use across the world—over 40 countries currently. Yes, they may be required in certain places, but this is not some Stalinesque ID card idea that would limit movement across the country.
Some people believe health passports will force everyone to get vaccinated. That is unlikely considering broad-sweeping laws would need to be passed and then the U.S. government would need to centralize its digital health passport efforts. At present, this is nothing more than a simple way to share vaccination information.
Others may believe that biometric information will be attached to public records like a drivers’ license or even a birth certificate. On the face of it, these fears seem to be implausible.
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