Immunity passport

Since the late 1980s governments across the world have been trying to build identity registries and by the mid-90s ID cards became a ‘modern’ policy, implementing smart cards and by the time of 9/11 biometric IDs became the preferred solution to undefinable problems. Then came vast databases of biometrics to identify people — with biometric passports leading to biometric border systems, with digital patient records creating e-health systems, with centralisation and automation of access public services leading to digital welfare programmes, to name a few.

Over the years, PI and our global network of partners have documented and challenged the growing push towards identity systems around the world - leading to some of the world’s largest biometric databases, as well as other technologies that can be used to track and profile individuals and communities.

Identity systems create risks for those who have access to an ID, as well as those who don’t. These systems can exclude: for all the claims of universality, there will be some people who do not have access to an ID, or those who cannot use their ID, and are denied access to goods and services. ID systems can exploit: they link together diverse sets of information about an individual, and allow tracking and profiling. ID systems can surveil: giving the state and private sector a 360-degree view of the person. All three of these are made worse by function creep - the spread of an identity system to more and more aspects of people’s lives.

This is why we are concerned and ready to challenge the push from government and industry to deploy immunity passports. It is presented as a solution which will create opportunities for unlocking, and for people to go back to their lives. The epidemiology of this is still under question given the lack scientific evidence of the immunopathology of Covid-19.

The risks to individuals and communities emerging from this are huge. Immunity passports are essentially restricting the liberties of individuals on the basis of their “immunity” status, or lack of it. The concerns we’ve observed when it comes to identity including exclusion and discrimination, the exploitation of people’s data, surveillance of people, and mission creep all apply to the concept of immunity passports.

The decision of Chile to not deploy immunity passports out of concerns it would lead to discrimination and disadvantage those applying for jobs clearly illustrates what could potentially go wrong, and the need to weigh the benefits and harms. And yet others are pushing through with their plans including in the US and the UK, amongst others, and the concept is being driven by industry-academic fora, the digital ID industry. visionaries of a world driven by identification and the travel industry.

The array of proposals to develop and implement immunity passports right now are all of the more concerning given that the World Health Organisation and immunologists have consistently maintained the position that given the lack of evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity there is no guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.

The potential for mission creep means that in the short-term the benefits could outweigh the harms and yet again those in the most precarious situations will be negatively affected, but also in the aftermath of the pandemic, digital identity systems deployed during the crisis could form the basis for mass digital identity systems to monitor, surveil and track.

In the case of Covid-19, we must recognise that immunity passports are not the silver bullet to the socio-economic challenges we are facing as a result of the pandemic. And importantly, we must ensure that any such sort of system being built to ease lockdown and tackle the pandemic must protect people, in particular those in the most vulnerable positions be based on scientific and immunological evidence, and finally they must complement other public health efforts.

18 Jun 2020
In a policy briefing, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics concludes that there is too much scientific uncertainty and too many ethical issues for to support immunity certification as a way of easing restrictions on travel, work, and other activities. While testing can be useful, the negative impacts
28 Apr 2020
Human Rights Watch finds problems with immunity passports Human Rights Watch considers the first proposals for immunity passports and suggests that although antibody testing is useful for ensuring the safety of frontline workers or giving a good idea of the percentage of a population that remains
10 Jul 2020
In July 2020 a public-private partnership programme between the Bill Gates-backed GAVI vaccine alliance, Mastercard, and the AI identity authentication company Trust Stamp was ready to introduce a biometric identity platform in low-income remote communities in West Africa. The programme will
15 Jul 2020
In advice issued to corporates, Deloitte considers the options for protecting workforces and suggests that immunity tests are available as a tool in any of three possible scenarios: the government ordered testing; the company adopts testing as a strategic initiative; employees take private action
02 Jul 2020
Even before anything like an official immunity passport has become available, users of online dating sites are finding that some prospective dates are pushing for in-person meetups by claiming that either they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus or have positive antibody tests showing that they
23 Jun 2020
In June, a health law researcher at the University of Indonesia suggested that the government could create its own version of the international vaccination certificate issued by the WHO for those who were vaccinated against the coronavirus, when a vaccine becomes available. Comparing it to
18 Jun 2020
Based on a recommendation by union home minister Amit Shah, in mid-June the Delhi government directed hospitals to issue covid-free certificates to patients when discharging them on the basis that they would help reduce the stigma around the disease and allow those who have recovered to go back to
16 Jun 2020
The Israeli smart digital ID card and border control software company Pangea hopes its new biometric smart card could help airports reopen. The company claims governments, many of which are working on defining the medical tests and processes required for eligibility, can use the card to verify that
10 Jul 2020
In order to reopen borders and restart travel and trade, the East African Community is working with Switzerland-based The Commons Project, a public trust that builds digital services for public good in order to develop an app called CommonPass. The app, which will be designed in a July sprint, will
21 Jun 2020
Testing for All is helping small employers and individuals access antibody tests by making them available at £42 each out of fear that “testing inequality” could fuel greater financial inequality, as private schools and big businesses have introduced testing to allow pupils and employees to return
26 Jun 2020
TrustNet Pakistan, the country’s only digital trust foundation, has begun work alongside many other global technology companies on a digital vaccination verification platform called CovidCreds. The initiative supports projects that use privacy-preserving verifiable credentials. TrustNet is working
08 May 2020
The Canary Islands sought to become the first destination for a coronavirus-free flight as part of a digital health passport pilot project backed by the World Health Organisation. Via the Hi+Card secure health mobile app that certifies they do not have COVID-19, each passenger will have a unique
23 Apr 2020
Blockchain timestamping supplier Guardtime, French health data manager OpenHealth, and Swiss authentication and tracing technologies company SICPA Group have jointly proposed the COVID-19 secured immunity passport. The proposed immunity passport would serve as the basis for real-time monitoring of a
10 Apr 2020
Premier League football has set up a COVID-19 testing programme that it says should soon allow socially-distanced fans to return to stadiums using technology from a company called Prenetics, which is also delivering testing for the England cricket team. Prenetics’ digital health passport links an
18 Jun 2020
After some employers were caught asking for such information, in mid-June 2020 the Spanish data protection authority warned that it is a violation of data protection laws to screen job candidates based on whether they have had and recovered from COVID-19 and developed antibodies. This type of
11 May 2020
The Manchester-based cybersecurity company VST Enterprises is working a digital health company Circle Pass Enterprises to create the “Covi-pass” digital health passport intended to allow holders to work and travel safely. The Covi-pass uses a colour system of red, green, and amber to indicate
09 Jun 2020
Speaking at COGx, the Tony Blair Institute said the UK should bring in digital health passports to let people travel if they are free of coronavirus. When he was in government, former UK prime minister Tony Blair, who founded the Institute, sought to bring in ID cards; they were scrapped in 2010
29 Jun 2020
The Israeli digital ID card creator Pangea EVP has developed an immunity passport intended to give individuals access to public spaces, including airports. The passport will include a photo of the holder, a digital signature, a hologram, and a chip. When they want to fly, holders will insert flight
04 May 2020
The German health minister, Jens Spahn, said the country required advice from the country’s ethics council before it could use the millions of antibody tests it had procured from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche to help determine how freely people could move around the country. Spahn cited the
25 May 2020
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides told health ministers in late May that they could not count on immunity certification when lifting cross-border travel restrictions within the EU. Prevention measures such as physical distancing, robust testing strategies, and ensuring health care capacity
11 May 2020
In mid-May, the Chilean health minister, Jame Mañalich, postponed the planned launch that would have made the country the first in the world to issue “immunity passports” on the basis that it could trigger discrimination in the job market. The decision was approved by experts from the Chilean
20 May 2020
The EFF is opposing a California bill, AB 2004, that would authorise the issuers of COVID-19 test results to provide them with blockchain-based verifiable credentials that could enable individuals to resume work, travel, or any other activity where verification of a COVID-19 test would be needed
24 Jun 2020
The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa has launched the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Health and Economic Action thta will use AI and big data to provide two-way communication between citizens and health authorities. It will launch in 36 countries, with more to come as others
29 May 2020
In late May, shortly before Italian domestic travel was set to reopen, Stefano Bonaccini, the governor of Emilia-Romagna, called Sardinia’s proposed health passports “unmanageable”, although Sicily and some other southern regions popular among tourists were also in favour of using them to ensure
05 May 2020
In April, as the crisis in Italy began to ease, some Italian health officials and politicians, among them Luca Zaia, the regional president of the northeastern region of Veneto, began to propose a “Covid Pass” that would Italians who have antibodies showing they have had and recovered from the
30 Mar 2020
At the end of March, jointly organised by the Robert Koch Institute (Germany’s public health body), the German Centre for Infection Research, the Institute for Virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, and blood donation services, researchers planned to begin conducting blood tests among the general
10 Jun 2020
Even though the scientific jury is still out on whether and how long post-COVID-19 immunity will last, proof of having recovered from the illness is an asset in renting out an apartment on Airbnb, US companies are beginning to develop an immunity passport for hotels, and the Chilean government is
27 May 2020
Immunity passports, under consideration in a number of countries, may violate US disability law, enable discrimination, and create a two-tiered exclusionary society. They are not really comparable to vaccination cards for diseases such as yellow fever or meningitis, which are required for entry into
01 Jun 2020
While acknowledging the WHO’s advice that retaining antibodies to the coronavirus after recovering from COVID-19 is not yet scientifically confirmed to confer immunity, the International Air Transport Association believes that immunity passports could be important in helping air travel resume
21 May 2020
Immunity passports are likely to increase discrimination and threaten fairness and public health - and won't work for practical reasons. First and foremost, scientists do not yet know whether infection confers immunity or for how long; the serological tests so far developed are insufficiently
26 May 2020
NHS Digital has added facial recognition to its app, which allows people to order prescriptions, book appointments, and find health care data, in hopes it will also be usable as an "immunity passport" once at-home testing becomes available. The NHS facial recognition system was built by iProov, and
05 Jun 2020
Estonia has begun testing its Immuunsuspass app, which was developed for the Back to Work NGO by the Estonian technology firms Transferwise and Guardtime working with health specialists. The app, which is intended to help schools and employers make decisions, will have to pass scientific consensus
29 Mar 2020
As part of its efforts to facilitate a transition out of lockdown, researchers at Germany's Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, are planning to introduce "immunity certificates" for those who pass an antibody test to show they have had and recovered from the virus and are ready to re-enter the