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Biometric health passports discussed by tech firms and governments as COVID-19 vaccine approaches

But privacy and logistical problems remain
Biometric health passports discussed by tech firms and governments as COVID-19 vaccine approaches

Immunity passports are currently being considered in Chile, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and the U.S., according to Zac Cohen, Chief Operating Officer at Trulioo.

The idea behind them is that someone who has tested negative for the virus or has been vaccinated against it should be able to travel without fear of spreading the infection. Proving the individual presenting the credential is the same one who received the vaccine is done with biometrics, in most versions.

Experts and law-makers have been divided on the matter, with opposite opinions being the cause of friction within organizations and governments.

For example, in May Technical Advisory Committee Member Elizabeth Renieris resigned from the ID2020 Alliance at least in part because of the risks to civil liberties she believes immunity passports pose.

Other worries are logistical in nature and are highlighted by Dr. Edgar Whitely, an expert in information systems at the London School of Economics.

Speaking to Business Insider, Whitely said passports could potentially incorporate three different types of status: vaccinated, recently tested for the virus, and recently tested for antibodies.

According to the expert, the coordination efforts between startups, testing firms, and national governments to create a working system would take up a substantial amount of time.

“Every startup wants to be the Amazon of its sector, but things have to be done properly,” he told Business Insider. “By definition, there’s not yet any way of knowing exactly how long any of these vaccines will last, or which segments of the population they are better for.”

Despite these concerns, however, various companies are already working towards the creation of immunity passports.

In May, for example, Onfido partnered with mobile hotel booking app Sidehide to develop an integration of a biometric immunity passport with the travel booking platform.

And in August, ID2020 certified the digital ID immunity passport developed by BLOK Bioscience as conforming to its standards of “good ID.”

FInally, The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said earlier this week it will begin trials for a biometric digital health travel pass next month, developed to ensure safe border reopenings across the globe.

A middle-ground position between supporters and opposition of immunity passports was considered by passwordless solutions firm Nomidio, which submitted written evidence to the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in July.

In the document, Nomidio argued a cloud-based identity service with strong encryption could help secure privacy, and preserve human rights and civil liberties in a centralized identity system.

As the world gets closer to a COVID-19 vaccine, the idea of an immunity passport will continue to be explored by governments and tech firms alike.

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