[guest post by Dana]
As the Biden administration is working with private companies to develop a framework for digital vaccine passports, a new report discusses the lack of standards and uniformity with the passport apps being developed:
Vaccine passports are new apps that will carry pieces of your health information — most critically your coronavirus vaccination status. They may soon be required to travel internationally or even to enter some buildings.
But a growing list of tech companies, governments and open-source software groups are all attempting to tackle the problem, prompting some concerns about a lack of a standard approach that would make it possible to carry around just one pass. Plus, apps would need to pull and verify your vaccination records in an easy, safe and controlled format. And wide adoption would require the majority of countries, airlines and businesses to agree on one (or two or three) accepted standards.
Several different organizations developing apps and tapping into government databases acknowledge how critical a common standard is. Still, many different groups are all racing to create that standard, with some overlap.
Jen Psaki sought to allay fears about the vaccine passport:
“There are a couple key principles that we are working from,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Monday. “One is that there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
As more Americans get vaccinated, the problem will grow. Reportedly, more than 37.4 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. [Ed. Yours truly just received the second shot yesterday. 24 hours later, and I am experiencing a swollen arm and achy joints. But if that’s the extent of my reaction, then I am counting my blessings.]
Arguments against the digital vaccine passport have included the potential violation of civil liberties. Here is the ACLU identifying what they see as the biggest potential problems with a digital vaccine passport. Some of their concerns have already been addressed in the Washington Post link above:
There is a difference between a standardized system for presenting proof of vaccination, and a digital system for doing so. With more and more of our credentials being displayed through apps on our phones — from airline boarding passes to concert tickets to gym memberships — it strikes many people as an obvious and overdue step to create a similar digital credential for those occasions when a person has to prove that they’ve been vaccinated. But digital credentials present a number of new potential problems, and we would oppose a vaccination credential system that does not meet three crucial criteria: It is not exclusively digital. A system that is exclusively digital, whether by design or as a practical matter, would be a nonstarter because it would increase inequality. Many people don’t have smartphones, including disproportionate numbers from some of our most vulnerable communities, such as people who are low-income, have disabilities, or are homeless, as well as more than 40 percent of people over age 65. As a result, any vaccine credential system would need to include a paper-based version for those who don’t have a smartphone or simply don’t want to use one. The paper option should not be a difficult or disadvantageous afterthought; a standardized credential should be primarily a paper-based system with an optional digital component, not the other way around.
It is decentralized and open source. The quest for a digital identity and credentialing system has become an entire field unto itself. Numerous companies, technologists, and academics have already generated a variety of concepts, standards, and products that would let us use cryptographic files or “tokens” on our phones to prove things about ourselves across our lives. The best of these schemes — and the only ones that should be considered for any digital elements of a vaccine credential system — take a decentralized and open source approach that puts individuals in control of their credentials and identity data, which they would hold in a digital wallet. But given the difficulty of creating a digital vaccine passport, we could see a rush to impose a COVID credential system built on an architecture that is not good for transparency, privacy, or user control.
It does not allow for tracking or the creation of new databases. Unless a vaccine credential system is completely decentralized and user-centric, it creates the potential for amassing new personal data. If some big company is getting notified any time someone reads one of your credentials, that would let them track your movements and interests — the stores, concerts, and transportation venues you visit, and much more. In the absence of airtight legal protections for privacy, any such information could then be sold for commercial purposes or shared with law enforcement.
However, making for odd bedfellows, a wing of the Republican Party has expressed their own concerns about vaccine passports:
A growing number of the Republican Party’s most conservative members have seized on the passport proposals and expected guidance from the White House, blasting them as an example of government overreach that would isolate Americans who choose not to get vaccinated and violate the privacy of those who do.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the controversial congresswoman whose conspiratorial remarks have drawn criticism from some in her own party, this week dubbed the passports President Biden’s “mark of the beast” and called the proposal a form of “corporate communism.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a steadfast ally of former President Trump and prospective 2024 presidential candidate, vowed this week to take executive action to ban businesses and local governments from implementing vaccine passport policies. He also urged the Republican-controlled state legislature to draft a more permanent measure against such requirements.
“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday…
The opposition to vaccine passports is the latest front in a year-long effort by conservatives to rally their supporters around restrictions put in place since the outset of the pandemic. Throughout 2020, some of the most prominent Republicans, including Trump, railed against government-mandated lockdowns and mask mandates.
How do you feel about the digital vaccine passports? How much does it concern you that, if the government is willing to mandate a digital passport, it would give them an opening to track other privacy issues? Also, do you really think this is a winning issue for the Republican Party, given that they need to win five seats in the House and one seat in the Senate next year to recapture their majorities? I sure don’t see it helping them.