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UN economist makes case for biometric vaccine passport adoption by developing nations

smartphone biometric identity and document verification

An official working on digital government applications with the United Nations has opined that the adoption of biometrics-based COVID vaccine passports by low-income countries will go a long way in helping them expand digital governance and leverage its acceptability.

In an editorial published by the IPS News Agency, Ian Richards argued that although the digital documents are coming with controversy, their adoption by those nations would be in line with the UN’s objectives of using digital government technology to ensure certain essential services reach destitute populations.

The biggest beneficiaries of such a move in developing nations would be women, young persons as well as those who live far away from major cities, Richards argues, because such groups of persons have often been left behind, as seen in some countries which have successfully implemented online and digital identity governance policies.

Richards cited some examples on how taking government services online in developing nations like Benin, Iraq, Estonia, Lesotho, China, and El Salvador, has significantly helped in bringing services closer to the people, and has changed certain norms. Changes in Benin have made it the fastest place in the world to open a business, according to Richards. He said the UN trade agency and the UN’s pension fund also use similar digital systems, highlighting the importance of digital identity documentation, especially in this pandemic context.

How the digital passports would function Richards succinctly explained, saying they would ensure personal biometric data privacy as all information, including photo for facial recognition, will remain on the user’s phone. Ordinary mobile boarding passes, by contrast, do not have the same security requirements.

Despite the lingering presence of the coronavirus pandemic, people still have to find safe ways of going to work and get money for remittances, families need to meet, countries have to prepare to open up borders and welcome tourists, and businesses have to reach new deals and resume normal functioning, among other needs.’

Although the World Health Organization has warned against any rush in adopting the passports, Richards said other nations such as the U.S, U.K and Israel, as well as the European Union, are looking at possibilities of introducing digital passports that could be carried on smartphones, so as to reduce instances of fraud especially with reports of fake PCR COVID test results.

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