Digital health credentials with face or fingerprint biometrics supported by Tony Blair Institute

Digital health credentials with face or fingerprint biometrics supported by Tony Blair Institute

Digital health credentials secured by biometrics should be adopted by the UK to allow people to resume travelling, according to proposals by the Tony Blair Institute. The suggestion is at odds with advice from the World Health Organization, which recently warned that so-called “immunity passports” could provide inaccurate information and put people at increased risk of catching the novel coronavirus.

In a report titled “Digital Identity: The Missing Piece of the Government’s Exit Strategy,” Technology and Public Policy Analyst Andrew Bennet suggests that digital identity infrastructure can help governments tackle a range of issues, starting with COVID-19.

Governments should put a mobility credential based on a secure and user-centric digital identity in place to allow safe opening of places where people will be in close quarters, according to the report. A framework for how the credential would be used in practice is also recommended, and four policy suggestions are included with each recommendation. The system is intended for use with air travel, but also public spaces such as hospitals, and private ones such as office buildings.

The system proposed relies heavily upon QR codes to share information for tamper-proof status sharing and authentication, and though the system would be smartphone based, people who do not own one could participate through SMS, connected smartcard, or a printed code.

Among recommendations in a section on “What Good Looks Like,” fingerprint or facial recognition would be enrolled at registration and used to secure the credential and the sensitive information it stores. The biometrics would also be used to unlock the QR code, to prevent people from sharing QR codes with others, such as by taking a screenshot.

The report also discusses “The Fault Lines for Public Consent,” and acknowledges the importance of strict guardrails and robust mechanisms for accountability and redress to any system seeking public support.

“Crucially, while the success of digital identity for tackling Covid-19 is dependent on a range of other factors, in particular mass testing, it would be a mistake to point to those challenges and write off the entire project,” Bennet concludes. “The need to safely reopen economies and societies won’t go away, and mobility credentials underpinned by a digital identity can play a vital role in achieving this.”

Blair’s government attempted to launch a national ID card over a decade ago, but that plan was scrapped in 2010.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already boosted the UK’s digital identity ecosystem, with the pace of signups for Gov.UK Verify surging during the lockdown.

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