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Here come the health passports. If only they were standardized


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Biometric COVID-19 passport apps are popping up as governments starved of travel-dependent revenue realize they cannot afford to wait for global, regional or sometimes even national standards for the digital ID documents.

Next up will be apps that also guarantee that the holder has had a coronavirus vaccine.

In an editorial preparing UK citizens and leaders for the inevitability of health passports, Tony Blair, that nation’s first 21st century prime minister, writes 120 nations require travelers to prove they are COVID free. The next step will be mandatory vaccine documentation, he says.

Blair, who started (and owns outright) the think tank Institute for Global Change, delves into the argument for a digital or paper biometric document. What is odd is that he underplays the one issue that will put off the greatest number of would-be passport holders: Trust.

He writes, “And the good news is that technology allows us to make this work effectively and with privacy.” Brushing his hands free of that solved puzzle, Blair meanders as he tries to explain that passports are good and that global standards for passports are even better.

He is exactly wrong about the technology. No method understood and accepted by the average person guarantees personal data can be protected from government, criminal or business misuse.

Separately, the UK government is considering mandatory vaccine passports for people who want to shop or visit businesses like restaurants locally. This is on the island where a majority of voters twice rejected participation in one of the most beneficial and productive regional trade alliances in history because they did not trust European Union motives. It is also planning to work with other countries on a regional or global scheme, The Sunday Times reports, rather than stand up its own border credential.

Blair is on steadier ground when advocating standards (though it is unclear why he is writing about it in the dishy tabloid the Daily Mail.) They are required if for no other reason than user-centric standards will make digital documents more trustworthy.

But if the global standards train has not yet left the station, it is releasing its brakes.

Hawaii is not waiting for standards, even from its own federal government, when it comes to COVID apps.

This week, the state will pilot a health document program with vendor Clear designed to eliminate mandatory 10-day quarantines for people arriving in the state.

Clear will administer its free biometric Health Pass app, which the company says will securely link a person’s coronavirus test result with their verified identity.

The pilot will involve some United and Delta flights from Los Angeles International Airport and Inouye International in Honolulu.

While that effort is only focused on testing, vaccine statements will follow quickly if the pilot succeeds.

Malaysia, on the other, is deliberating a vaccine visa that also would obviate mandatory quarantines. According to trade publisher The Edge Markets, Malaysia Aviation Group executives have said they are negotiating with “local authorities” to develop a biometric document.

Skeptics there about a go-it-solo strategy are pushing at least for a program that meets standards used by the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency.

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