Tech companies, health care providers, and even retail stores are working on digital health pass apps that will allow users to show proof of vaccination before entering events and businesses.
The state of New York is already scanning IBM’s Excelsior app at the door of venues such as Madison Square Garden ahead of sporting events; if you’ve tested negative for Covid-19 or received a vaccine, you can watch a Rangers hockey game in person.
Vaccine verification apps could play a key role in lifting restrictions, but privacy and security experts say the upcoming rollout will present a handful of challenges over standards, interoperability, personal data, and adoption — from both users and businesses.
This will be compounded by a deluge of apps potentially coming our way, with the federal government largely saying it will stay out of it.
“Less is more,” said Alan Butler, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “These are public health-related systems that should be managed by public health departments and should be limited in how they’re used to that context.
We don’t want these to be broad data collection systems for all sorts of different uses that exist far beyond the public health crisis.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently said there will be “no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. We want to encourage an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and nonprofit coalitions developing solutions.”
But leaving the process up to the private sector and local governments could present unforeseen consequences. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis already banned the requirement of vaccination proof documents in the state — a move that has the cruise line industry worried about reopening plans.
Jenny Wanger, the director of programs for Linux Foundation Public Health, said “hundreds” of companies are actively involved in making vaccine credential solutions.
Her organization is behind The Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a global community made up of more than 450 technologists, academics, and healthcare professionals from more than 100 organizations, which is among the groups establishing standards for vaccine health pass apps.
The aim is to set guidelines so apps can be interoperable and open-sourced, allowing developers to see what’s happening behind the coding to create a more transparent and collaborative process.”Our goal is to have any business develop something — startups can play in this space, as well as IBM,” Wanger said. “We are working on this system so there isn’t a way for one company or one group of companies to have power over health records or be overly dominant.”