Vaccines are here; could digital passports proving inoculation be far behind?
Coronavirus vaccines are here, and travel is resuming. Could a “vaccine passport” be far behind?
A flight doubling as a trial run for just such a digital experiment took off Thursday morning, NBC News reported.
Before boarding the Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Istanbul, travelers logged into an app using their smartphone’s facial recognition software, then took a selfie to authorize access. Then they scanned their passport via their phone’s camera, NBC News explained. Then they’d add their itinerary, vaccination certificates and COVID-19 test results.
Some see that as the next frontier in air travel, while others think it would further expose inequity among the haves and have-nots.
The International Air Transport Association has been working on some sort of app that could serve as a pass since well before the pandemic, but is now figuring how to add health information to the mix, a spokesperson told ABC News.
Travelers to the U.S. from elsewhere in the world already must prove they’re COVID-free, as NBC News noted. The new aspect is not proof of vaccination in and of itself, since travelers to some countries must show they’ve been inoculated against diseases like yellow fever, the transport association, noted in a fact sheet about its initiative. It’s the digital component that’s new, as well as the specific coronavirus information, as ABC News noted.
It’s also more than that, the association said. It would include a global registry of health requirements so that passengers could easily access the travel, health and testing requirements of their destination. It would also include a registry of COVID-19 testing and vaccination centers at the traveler’s departure point, and a secure, encrypted channel enabling labs to verify passengers’ identities and send the tests and vaccine information directly to travelers, which they could then store on their phone.
And of course, there’d be an app for that. The International Air Transport Association Travel Pass App would enable passengers to create “a secure and verified digital identity” linked to the passport.
At the same time, the information would not be kept in any kind of database, the IATA said.
Having such a document or information embedded in a chip could eliminate the need for quarantine upon landing, ABC News reported.
The goal, the IATA said, is to make countries feel comfortable opening their borders given that the coronavirus is here to stay, though perhaps not in pandemic form.
However, some privacy and human rights advocates fear the measures could backfire. Such initiatives could create “false assurances of public safety” and create a two-tiered system, Duke University law and philosophy professor Nita Farahany told NBC News, while British civil rights organization Liberty said, “It’s impossible to have immunity passports which do not result in human rights abuses.”