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.

Long Read

The deployment of vaccines, and in particular any “immunity passport” or certificate linked to the vaccination, must respect human rights.

10 Aug 2020
Manchester-based VST Enterprises is developing a rapid COVID-19 testing kit intended to help restart stadium sporting events. The results of tests, which fans will take the day before the event they wish to attend and provide results within ten minutes, will be stored in VSTE’s V-Health Passport, a
04 May 2020
Immunity passports would impose artificial restrictions on who can and cannot participate in social, civic, and economic activities, and create a perverse incentive for individuals, particularly those who can’t afford a period of exclusion, to seek out infection, posing a health risk to anyone they
07 Jul 2020
The UK had unrealistic expectations for antibody testing; as early as April health secretary Matt Hancock was suggesting that antibody testing could form the basis for immunity passports even though it is still uncertain whether and for how long SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to further infection
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
05 Jun 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