With a view to easing lockdown and permitting individuals to begin traveling once more, for work or leisure, several countries are calling for an “health passports”. The authorities in some popular European destinations, as well as Greece, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands, are talking openly concerning antibody-based passports to enable safe entry for tourists.
Chile’s Ministry of Health recently declared that it would issue “release certiﬁcates,” in the form of smartphone QR codes, to those who are 14 days clear of Covid-19 symptoms.
An immunity passport scheme is also being mentioned in the United Kingdom. In April, Onﬁdo, a ﬁrm specializing in digital identity technologies, submitted written evidence on “the role of
Digital Identity in health Passports” to the Science and Technology Committee.
Describing an immunity passport based on facial recognition as “a linchpin of replacement normality”, the company, which enjoys the ﬁnancial backing of TPG, Salesforce Ventures
and Microsoft’s M12 Ventures, among others, makes the case that domestic travel “is crucial to the economic growth and recovery of the united kingdom.” Onﬁdo CEO and co-founder Husayn Kassai said in a statement: “An immunity passport is a presentable proof of immunity. it’s designed to assist an individual to prove that they have been checked and that their test result belongs to them, but without having to share any personal info.
“We’re in talks with governments and employers to make this process as fast, secure, and simple as possible. Our technology is used to tie a physical human being to their digital identity using just a photo of their ID and a selﬁe video. Once this is bound to a test result, the digital certiﬁcate could be displayed similar to a smartphone boarding pass.” Matt Gould, the CEO of NHSX, the technology wing of the National Health Service, said he had been approached by a number of organizations, however, insisted NHSX was in “the very early stages” of considering its options.
Any putative passport would rely on sufﬁcient scientiﬁc evidence that antibodies provide immunity. But, according to prof raj Muttukrishnan, an expert on electronic security at city university, an international travel passport containing data regarding the bearer’s health is an inevitability. the only way to manage travel across EU borders will be to somehow link it to the health data, possibly from the tracing app that will be launched soon. The app will have all our location data and who we came in contact with.
The app traces the individual’s movement to manage the spread of the virus or a second wave. This [information] would be very useful in the EU where people drive through borders without many checks and can also speed up the border-crossing process instead of, say, thermal imaging cameras.”
The smart chip in biometric passports contains the same basic data that are printed inside. Some jurisdictions store facial recognition images and ﬁngerprints in passports. Health data could be uploaded to the passport chip, which can work in unison with a smartphone. “The details can be added into existing passports,” says professor Muttukrishnan. “There would have to be international agreement on what kind of biometric data will be stored and there must be a consent from the travelers that these will be used for health validation
The soft biometrics traits of an individual will be linked to their personal mobile phones whereby they can take a thermal image and verify their health condition in real-time, including their temperature using a thermal scanner in one’s mobile phone.” while governments have yet to work out a course of action, technology companies are looking into designs for health passports and databases. Since mid-April, more than sixty ﬁrms, universities, and organizations have been working together to develop what they call the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a “digital certiﬁcate that lets people prove (and request proof from others) that they’ve recovered after testing negative”. Notes of caution are being sounded by human rights lawyers and civil liberties lobbyists, as well as the World Health Organisation, which warns that “people who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health recommendation.”
Writing in the Lancet, Alexandra Phelan, a prof in international and public health law and ethics at Georgetown University, argues that “health passports incentivize infection”, as individuals won’t be able to prove they’re free to move around till they have had Covid-19, recovered from it, and been given a green light. There’s nothing new about the tortuous relationship between passports and pandemics. Before the first world war, most people moved across borders with travel documents, work permits and sufﬁcient funds to prove they could pay their way. The 1920 Paris Conference on Passports. Customs Formalities and through Tickets decided passports would only be adopted as a temporary measure till “pre-war conditions [are] gradually established”.
But the massive death toll of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 put paid to any repealing of passport legislation. At the time, some countries considered including medical records, however, the paper technology of the time had limitations – a passport-holder could feasibly alter the information – and no global consensus was ever reached.
Electronic health passports, while no panacea, might allow movement within and between countries if they can agree on security and privacy issues, as well as the terms of what constitutes immunity.
ID cards containing biometric data
Many countries already have ID cards containing biometric data. while United Kingdom governments have shelved discussion of national identity schemes since the National Identity Register was scrapped in 2010, travel is an area where a unilateral approach is unlikely to work. “If individuals want to get back to near normal, to travel abroad, have a holiday or go on business, then they’ll most likely have to accept a travel document, which hopefully will become mandatory,” says prof Muttukrishnan.
“It’s no secret that several countries ask for health certiﬁcates for foreign employees. A passport scheme will be driven by need and citizens will have to accept it as they’ll the adoption of the new Covid-19 tracing app.”