April 14, 2021

Digital Health Passports

I am delighted to be working with Dr Ana Beduschi, at the University of Exeter, to support her ongoing ESRC-funded project COVID-19 - Human Rights Implications of Digital Certificates for Health Status Verification.

Dr Beduschi’s work responds directly to the UK Government’s recent announcement that it would consider introducing ‘Immunity Passports’ as part of its ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an intervention would allow people to verify their immunity to COVID-19, or provide proof of vaccination or test results, which in turn could hasten a return to work, and allow greater freedom of movement for those individuals. On the other hand, these public health interests need to be carefully weighed up against the long lasting threat that immunity passports potentially pose to data privacy and human rights.

Dr Beduschi and her colleagues are particularly concerned that immunity passports would:

●      require the use of sensitive personal health information

●      create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status

●      be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights one may enjoy

Last week I was privileged to facilitate the first of two ‘expert witness’ workshops that brought together key stakeholders to consider the general opportunities and risks of health passports, explore some of the specific challenges faced by women in digital equity systems and collaborate to anticipate the long term impact that passports could have. I look forward to the second of these sessions in early May and to synthesising these discussions to inform a final report.  

If you can’t wait to be updated on these workshops, the findings from a rapid expert deliberation coordinated by the Ada Lovelace Institute earlier this year, at which Dr Beduschi was present, can be seen here.

For an in-depth commentary on the risks of immunity passports, you may be interested in Dr Beduschi’s article Immunity Passports: A Risky Solution, published by Directions in June 2020.