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Immunity certificates should leverage biometrics to alleviate privacy concerns, says ID2020’s executive director

Immunity certificates should leverage biometrics to alleviate privacy concerns, says ID2020’s executive director

Immunity certificates, if they are to be implemented, should be secured to protect privacy, ideally with biometrics, according to a white paper written by ID2020 Alliance Executive Director Dakota Gruener with input from the organization’s Board, Technical Advisory Committee and staff, and published by the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

Immunity Certificates: If We Must Have Them, We Must Do It Right” outlines how immunity certificates consistent with the principles for digital ID contained in the ID2020 Manifesto can be developed. In addition to privacy protection, digital health certificates would have to have portability and wide recognition, as well as trustworthiness, according to the 28-page report.

The Verified Credential standard developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) are noted as potential elements in an immunity certificate system.

“We all share an obligation to protect public health. But doing so should not mean giving up our right to privacy,” noted ID2020 Executive Director, Dakota Gruener. “Proven technologies, grounded in a respect for equity and human rights, can be redeployed to help protect society from a resurgence of the disease and put control of personal health information in the hands of the individual. But this approach must be pursued cautiously, with a full acknowledgement of the risks, and detailed plans to mitigate them.”

The proposal to use immunity certificates by individuals to prove their COVID-19 status is complex, and raises privacy, exclusion, and inequality concerns, according to the announcement.

“Where possible, use of biometrics may provide a second layer of security, strongly binding the holder and the credential; we recommend the use of biometrics that are stored locally on an individual’s device and that permit local authentication,” the report says in a section about credential fraud in a chapter on “Risks Posed by Privileging Immunity.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that given uncertainty about the relation between the presence of COVID-19 antibodies and immunity, or how long any immunity they provide lasts, the use of “immunity passports” is not recommended. The Chilean government is moving ahead with plans to offer such a credential, however, CTV News reports, though the Canadian government says its lockdown-reduction plans at this time do not involve consideration of immunity, pending new data.

This post was updated at 2:30pm Eastern Time on April 28, 2020 to clarify the authorship of the report.

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