Digital ID-based immunity passports roll out amid lack of info, uncertain mandates
Immunity passports and digital health credentials, based on digital ID and frequently secured with biometrics, seem to be becoming an increasingly contentious topic as they begin to be launched and implemented. The UK government program that supported the collaboration between iProov and Mvine on a solution utilizing biometrics also funded seven other immunity credential projects, and with many companies including World Health Access and Itoco joining the market, the Ada Lovelace Institute sees a need for more information on the whole topic.
Adoption of IATA and Evernym’s solution continues, and the air travel body wants some consistency among digital ID health credentials, at least regionally.
Details emerge of UK government’s immunity passports funding
Documents from innovation agency InnovateUK reveal eight COVID-19 vaccine passport projects have received over £450,000 (around US$615,000) in government funding, reports the Telegraph, but the government insists digital ID-based health credentials will not be required in the country.
All projects were reportedly a part of the government’s £40 million ($54 million) competition to “respond to new and urgent needs in UK and global communities during and following the Covid-19 pandemic” launched in April 2020.
This follows multiple statements by government officials stressing no vaccine passport will be on the agenda for the UK. On January 14th, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there were “no plans to introduce vaccine passports” and “No one has been given or will be required to have a vaccine passport.”
Though the Department of Health and Social Care maintains that no passport is live yet, “As with other vaccination programmes, a vaccine record card will be issued to patients with the relevant details about the vaccine, including the date of their vaccination and their vaccine type. But this card is not an immunity passport and cannot not be used as a form of identification.”
In August of 2020, iProov and Mvine announced their collaboration on a vaccine passport prototype with biometric security to be trialed by Local Directors of Public Health across the UK; through which the pair secured £75,000 (roughly $102,000) from Innovate UK.
Other projects who received the top two largest grants from the Government include EAS Technologies’ vaccination certificates platform specifically for the sports industry ($236,000) and Verifiable Credentials’ cryptographically-protected digital certificates working like an Oyster card ($121,000).
Companies already requiring vaccines include travel company Saga, and flight operator Qantas.
Biometrics developers make the most of COVID passport demand
Biometrics companies are taking advantage of the demand for secure systems following the rollout of global COVID-19 vaccination programs, an article published in Science Direct shows.
World Health Access (WHA) launched its own biometric VAX Passcard for vaccine proofing, utilizing a user’s fingerprint to verify identity. The passcard stores both tests and vaccinations, and encrypts all personal information.
Itoco Ltd. announced a biometrically-secured blockchain system, dubbed Immutable Virus Test Result Verification, which is smartphone accessible, proving virus-status. The system is available as an open-source repository on GitHub, and accessible through a mobile app using a hashed biometric public key.
Isaac Daniel, CEO of WHA’s parent company says “At this time, there is no national organisation that maintains vaccination records, not even the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VAX Passbook and Passcard are an essential component in the global efforts to restore normalcy and to live freely again.”
Ada Lovelace Institute launches evidence review for COVID app regulations
Due to the ongoing discussion of vaccine passport and app adoption, AI research body The Ada Lovelace Institute has launched an evidence review this month, and an open call for evidence to gain insight into practical and ethical issues associated with these new digital methods.
Bringing together cross sector experts, the institute’s review will explore the risks and benefits of private and public sector digital vaccine passport and health status app schemes. A similar review was conducted in January 2020.
The purpose of the review will be to provide guidance to the UK and other national governments, as well as evidence to best present how a passport or an app can work in the interests of society. The evidence will be collated into a report to which will act as the guidance and stipulate where best to focus regulatory attention.
The Institute reports that while vaccine roll out is the dominant method for ending national lockdown, some form of vaccine record will become significant.
Carly Kind, director of Ada Lovelace Institute, says “…there is urgent need for guidance from the UK Government on how these apps should be used and the relative risks individuals actually face as a result of their introduction. This requires evidence – quantitative and qualitative research on public understanding of different framing and phrasing – to determine how to best communicate the true nature of each kind of certification.”
Some pointers the review will investigate include; science, design, law, ethics and social impact.
IATA biometric travel pass to be available with Emirates and Etihad
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that flight operators Etihad and Emirates will be some of the first users of the biometric Travel Pass digital health passport app starting during this year, reports Business Travel News.
The Pass was developed in collaboration with Evernym, and combines four modules; destination entry requirements, testing or vaccine facilities, editable passenger information and a digital identity component. It will also allow passengers to store their records without using a centralized database.
Etihad will use the pass on selected routes to verify that travelers are healthy, by accessing individuals’ lateral flow test results. Emirates will begin using the pass in April when travelers from Dubai are able to update the app with their testing status.
IATA’s open letter to EC calls for common EU COVID passport
IATA has also been active in campaigning for a common EU immunity passport. Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has written an open letter to the European Commission commiserating with Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ initiative to agree a common digital European COVID-19 vaccination certificate; enabling vaccinated individuals to travel freely within Europe.
“We are in very dark days of this pandemic. But the tough measures taken combined with accelerating vaccination programs must give us hope that we can safely re-establish the freedom of movement. That will save jobs, ease mental anguish, re-connect families and revive the economy. To do this safely and efficiently, planning is key. Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s proposal for vaccine certificates will be a key enabler,” said Juniac.