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Vaccine pass systems and biometric contact tracing on the rise

But so are data privacy and exclusion concerns
Vaccine pass systems and biometric contact tracing on the rise

UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has said that vaccine passports will not be part of the UK’s plans, reports The Telegraph, despite major international airlines United Airlines, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Air Lines and JetBlue stating that they will offer the system to passengers. The idea of a vaccine passport first arose in March 2020, according to the report, when Philipa Whitform, the chair of the all-parliamentary group for vaccines said they could help track the virus’ movement.

Though the vaccine passport may not ever be mandatory globally, it may be a requirement of some countries in order for people to travel freely. For the development of a vaccine pass, biometrics could help in matching the individual with their vaccine record. Some countries have been discussing such systems already, while in India the government is requiring eligible individuals to register their documents with the country’s national digital identity, and Israel will soon be delivering ‘green passports’ proving their COVID status via a mobile app.

The World Economic Forum is currently developing a CommonPass system with the help of executives and officials from 52 countries, including three from Britain. The system would include a scannable QR for authorities, and WEF says the app will be launching in the first half of 2022.

Private companies could still choose to develop their own vaccine passes; Gove said individual businesses would have the “capacity to make decisions about who they will admit and why.” iProov, Veridium and Onfido have all looked at how digital IDs for coronavirus immunity might work.

“The goal may be to have an immunity passport system that is available to everyone, in practice this will likely be far from the case. Health systems already exclude many people, or create unintentional hierarchies in society. Access to testing or a future vaccine will most likely follow the existing patterns of exclusion,” says Privacy International.

IAG, which owns British Airways, is also working on a separate health pass, which will roll out early this year, while tech giant IBM has already developed a Digital Health Pass for companies and venues to verify customers’ vaccine status.

The World Health Organization is not recommending any immunity passports, however is in the early stages of developing e-vaccination certificates. “Having trustworthy and reliable proof of vaccination for COVID-19 vaccine will be essential for public health purposes, such as studies on vaccine effectiveness,” a WHO spokesman said earlier this month.

Global disparities in the use of vaccination pass records

MIT Technology Review, meanwhile, summarizes the ongoing vaccine passport developments, and the inevitable ethical and legal considerations that will follow. The publication points out that connecting systems across borders to facilitate these vaccine passports means navigating a patchwork of languages, records, databases, and privacy laws. The vaccine records could also be applied to employment authorization, or as a pass to get into restaurants, bars, and shopping malls.

It is still unclear exactly how long immunity lasts for, and to prove that having a vaccine prevents you from giving COVID-19 to other people, furthermore there may be inconsistencies between the different types of vaccine, therefore without this data, the only thing for certain is the date which the individual received the vaccine.

Those who have struggled through the pandemic, such as homeless, elderly and undocumented people will be less likely to use smartphones for their medical records, says TR. Meanwhile a black market exists for fake test results, which is driving the demand for cheat-proof digital documents, likely involving biometrics. This is where airlines and other businesses have put a focus, the method would ask participating labs and health systems to send authenticated test results and other data straight to the app, bypassing verification concerns.

Governments are already keeping vaccination and test result COVID records and while most vaccinations are captured in state or local registries, using those databases for digital verification may face both legal and technological barriers.

Biometric wearable supports contact tracing, distancing for hockey juniors

TraceSafe, a contact tracing solutions company, has designed wearable biometric technology linked to an app. The technology is currently Hockey Canada’s extra layer of defence against the spread of the virus at the 12-day, 10-nation tournament, The Seattle Times writes.

The app is a self-assessment tool incorporating facial recognition and a code for a temperature check. It utilizes Bluetooth device that flashes if an individual (or player) is less than 2 meters (6.6 feet) from another person, or if they are in someone else’s presence for more than 15 minutes.

This tactic has also been used with National Hockey League players and staff who used Clear’s Health Pass to protect against the spread of COVID-19. This was used on roughly 3,000 players, coaches, and support staff during the league’s resumption of its 2019-2020 season.

“What we wanted to do is be able to trace where people were relative to others and we wanted to be able to set a quarantine period where no one was allowed to leave,” Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s vice president of events, told the Canadian Press.  A device in their rooms and the wristbands created a geofence, so if a player left his room, the signal would break and indicate a breach of quarantine.

The data from the devices are uploaded via an encrypted network which is then used as feedback in contact tracing alerts. The data can also be accessed in real time by an International Ice Hockey Federation official and a representative of the organizing committee. Any positive test is reported to Alberta Health Services for contact tracing to begin.

A stage adaptation of Sleepless in Seattle similarly began rehearsals in London in July with a testing system called FRANKD, with results delivered via Yoti’s biometric app.

Bypassed biometric security feature leads to hacked Chinese health status app

The mobile app Beijing Jiankangbao which records the health status of tens of millions of residents and visitors in the Chinese capital, including their travel history and COVID-19 test results has experienced a data breach, Vice reports. Some users of the app were able to bypass a facial recognition feature using names and identification numbers, which allowed them to find celebrity’s information and photos, which were then sold online.

This is one of several data breaches worldwide, in part because of flaws or weak security in systems designed to control the virus, according to Vice. For example, in September, Welsh authorities in September said data of 18,105 coronavirus patients were uploaded to a public site by mistake.

The huge growth in the collection of data in China triggered the government to draft a personal privacy law, unveiled late last year.

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