As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out all across the nation, many government officials are now reportedly considering some form of COVID “passport,” which would allow people to escape restrictions on travel or work.
New York is already issuing an “Excelsior Pass” to residents which would provide proof of a COVID vaccination or a current negative test while attending public events. The European Union plans to roll out a “Digital Green Pass” for work and travel between nations. Israel has begun implementing a “green pass” for its vaccinated citizens to enter gyms, restaurants, and public venues.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the major so-called “COVID passports” being considered or already in use, and the potential implications they would have on all of us.
New York’s “Excelsior Pass”
Though mired in controversies, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a pilot program that provides individuals digital proof of either a COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test to “fast-track” reopening the state for business and travel. New York residents will be provided with a printable digital pass which will be scanned upon entrance to public events like ball games, concerts, and — potentially — airports.
“First announced in the Governor’s 2021 State of the State address and developed in partnership with IBM,” Governor Cuomo’s website reports, “the Excelsior Pass will use proven, secure technology to confirm an individual’s vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test through a confidential data transfer to help fast-track the reopening of theaters, stadiums and other businesses in accordance with New York State guidelines.”
Currently, the Excelsior Pass is voluntary. It remains unclear whether Cuomo and other Democratic officials will make such proof of vaccination compulsory to attend public outings in the near future.
Israel is issuing its “Green Pass” to its citizens
So far, Israel is far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to vaccinating its citizens, “with 55 percent of the population having received one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and more than 41 percent two doses,” according to The New York Times.
Currently, only those with proof of vaccination in the form of a “Green Pass” are allowed full access to public outings and gatherings, including indoor gyms and restaurants.
“For the first time in months,” The Times continues, “restaurants have reopened, with restrictions on occupancy and social distancing and with indoor seating available only to so-called Green Pass holders, meaning people over 16 who are fully vaccinated…Event halls are reopening for Green Pass holders and gatherings of up to 1,500 people will be allowed in stadiums and arenas.”
The Guardian reported that green pass holders will also get exclusive access to gyms, hotels, theaters, and concerts.
The nation is grappling with “a host of legal, moral and ethical questions” as it implements its novel policy and “tries to balance the steps toward resuming public life with sensitive issues such as public safety, discrimination, free choice and privacy,” The New York Times also detailed.
Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, insists that “[g]etting vaccinated is a moral duty” and [w]hoever does not get vaccinated will be left behind.”
In some cities, “mayors wanted to bar unvaccinated teachers from classrooms while some hoteliers threatened unvaccinated employees with dismissal.”
So far, Israel’s vigilance toward the virus and vaccinations may not be readily accepted elsewhere in the world given its potential conflict with civil liberties.
The European Commission has plans to issue a “digital green pass”
The president of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, is advocating for a “digital green pass” to facilitate safer travel between nations for its citizens. According to TechCrunch, “the planned digital tool will aim to provide proof that a person has been vaccinated” from COVID-19. The pass will also display recent test results.
As the executive branch of the European Union, the EC is aware of the optics surrounding such a pass and is attempting to make sure it’s not viewed as compulsory or discriminatory.
“The Commission is being careful to avoid calling the digital pass a ‘vaccine passport’ — as the notion of limiting people’s freedoms based on (still very) limited access to vaccines raises the ugly spectre of discrimination,” TechCrunch reports.
Still, the European Commission is feeling pressure from nations whose economies rely heavily on tourism to expedite such a pass to encourage travel again. Such an accelerated timeline may be fraught with a whole host of uncertainties, however.
Echoing such concerns, French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that “a vaccine can’t be a precondition for travel,” according to Politico.
Data breaches and privacy protection are serious issues with such passes
Though officials argue that security and privacy are of the utmost importance, major technological issues remain at the forefront of such passes.
Israel’s newly implemented green pass “uses an outdated encryption library” making it potentially susceptible to any number of hacks and breaches that one expert describes as a “catastrophe in the making,” according to Cat Ferguson of the MIT Technology Review.
“The green pass is also a potential privacy nightmare, says Orr Dunkelman, a computer science professor at Haifa University and a board member of Privacy Israel,” Ferguson reports. “He says the pass reveals information that those checking credentials don’t need to know, such as the date a user recovered from covid or got a vaccine…Orr says. Crucially, because the app is not open source, no third-party experts can vet whether these concerns are founded.”
Governor Cuomo and EC president von der Leyen both insist that security remains a top priority for their respective passes.
Cuomo states that “[r]obust privacy protections are woven throughout the digital health pass” and that private information is secured “using an encrypted digital smartphone wallet or printed credential” on his website. IBM has partnered with the Cuomo administration in developing and rolling out the Excelsior Pass.
Such “robust” measures are not without legitimate criticism. Jenin Younes of the American Institute For Economic Research (AIER) argues “that once again, a big tech company is benefitting from illiberal policies enacted in response to the pandemic” in reference to the Excelsior Pass.
Von der Leyen makes similar promises as Cuomo, stating in a tweet that the Digital Green Pass “will respect data protection, security & privacy.”
All these guarantees remain hypothetical, and the fact that passes are being fast-tracked in a somewhat haphazard manner does not bode well for data protection and security given the inherently precarious nature of such technology.
Ramesh Raskar, the head of the PathCheck Foundation, a global nonprofit “dedicated to containing Covid-19 and revitalizing the economy, while preserving privacy and individual liberty,” voiced such concerns over the pending passes being issued for all involved.
“It’s not just about making sure you don’t have to hand over personal information to get into a bar, though: privacy is also important for those who are undocumented or who mistrust the government,” Raskar told MIT Technology Review. “It’s important for companies not to create another ‘hackable repository’ when they view your information.”
Will such COVID passports make vaccinations mandatory, especially in the workplace?
A major issue facing all of us is whether or not vaccinations will be compulsory for the workplace. As it stands, it seems that employers can enforce vaccinations for the most part. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
Workplace rules are not hard and fast, especially regarding safety protocols. Professor Dorit Reiss who teaches law at the University of California Hastings told AP News that “[e]mployers generally have wide scope” when making workplace rules.
As such, “employers can require employees to take safety measures, including vaccination.” The only potential workarounds would be to “sign a waiver or agree to work under specific conditions to limit any risk you might pose to yourself or others.”
AP News also reports that “[t]he U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has allowed companies to mandate the flu and other vaccines, and has also indicated they can require COVID-19 vaccines.”
Though the tone and tenor from government officials presents vaccinations as a voluntary measure, it does share some resonance with the deeply contentious issue of mask-wearing that also began as a “voluntary practice” before becoming a federal mandate under President Biden.
With the current administration at the helm, it does not seem at all farfetched that most of us will be compelled to provide proof of vaccination moving forward, particularly in order to continue working.
Just how necessary is the vaccine for many of us?
Cogent arguments outside of embracing immediate vaccination are all but being drowned out by fringe conspiracies, disallowing any reasonable discussion to take place. The anti-vaccine movement continues to prattle on unabated in its echo chambers while “follow the science” has been reduced to an insufferable, dogmatic refrain by far too many.
Jenin Younes voices tremendous concern over Cuomo’s Excelsior Pass, providing a rare and nuanced discussion in her aforementioned piece for AIER.
Younes begins by unequivocally stating that she is “by no means anti-vaccine as a general matter” and understands that “Covid-19 vaccines can provide a substantial benefit to many people, especially vulnerable populations.” However, she asserts that the main risks and uncertainties surrounding the vaccines have to do with “the new nature of the technology” and “that they have received emergency use authorizations rather than full market approval.”
“It is, therefore, not unreasonable for healthy, relatively young people to whom the virus poses a negligible threat to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and decide to forego vaccination in favor of potential natural immunity,” Younes argues. “Nor is it irrational for vulnerable individuals to make the same choice. Vaccination is – or should be – a personal decision based upon one’s assessment of the risks and benefits to oneself and others. By tying the ability to attend certain events to immunization status, Governor Cuomo is effectively using the coercive power of the state to influence people’s choices about their bodies and their health, and the degree to which they are willing to take on a risk for the benefit of other people.”
Though these so-called “COVID passports” are currently voluntary for the most part, legitimate concern is growing over such policies and procedures. Not only do they potentially risk our data and private information with unproven technology, they may also pose a threat to our deeply held freedoms and liberties.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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