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Are Travelers Ready for a Digital Health Passport?



As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) moves forward with plans for an app that will enable flyers to display their COVID-19 status at airports, be forewarned.

If you thought the wearing of face masks was a civil liberties issue, this could be even more difficult to navigate among the flying public.


It’s known as a digital passport and it would provide airlines with information on whether a passenger is free of COVID-19 and whether they have been vaccinated when the inoculations become available next month. In turn, the aviation industry hopes it will instill confidence in travelers to fly again, particularly international travel and business travel, the two sectors hardest-hit by the virus.

“Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA CEO, said in a statement.

But right-to-privacy advocates are questioning the move, if not outright objecting to it. According to the respected publication The Hill, the digital health pass would include a passenger’s testing and vaccine information and would manage and verify information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travelers.

That’s four different entities, and that’s four too many for some who believe their privacy will be violated.

“Proponents of immunity passports do not yet know the extent of the problem they are solving. Companies selling their pre-existing digital identity solutions should be viewed with suspicion; this is not a problem that has been ‘solved’ as we have yet to define what the problem is,” wrote Privacy International on its website.

Privacy International is an advocacy group that vows “to protect democracy, defend people’s dignity, and demand accountability from institutions who breach public trust.”

Privacy International called immunity passports a ‘theoretical credential,’ a solution to solve the problem of restrictions and lockdowns invented by proponents of digital identity; the digital identity industry; think-tanks; and the travel industry.

But, the group noted, “The nature of what information would be held on an immunity passport is currently unknown. The social risks of immunity passports are great: it serves as a route to discrimination and exclusion, particularly if the powers to view these passports falls on people’s employers, or the police.”

Yet, just like face masks are now policy on flights and in airports, it remains to be seen how much of a pushback the privacy rights groups will give for a plan that is likely to be instituted.

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