The race to build COVID-19 vaccine “passport” credentials has started, with the Biden administration saying it will issue guidance for those developing them.
Conservatives are raising alarms about the potential abuse of the new technology that shows proof of vaccination for governments and businesses.
The Biden administration’s involvement has become a lightning rod for controversy, with first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, branding the efforts “Corporate Communism.”
“They are actually talking about people’s ability to buy and sell linked to the vaccine passport,” Ms. Greene tweeted. “They might as well call it Biden’s Mark of the Beast.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Biden administration expects the private sector to develop vaccine passports and the administration’s coming guidelines can be used as a basis for developers. The apps and documentation that businesses and governments may require are expected to vary greatly.
Ms. Psaki said the Biden administration wants no federal vaccination database nor a mandate requiring everyone to maintain a vaccination credential.
Skeptics of the vaccine passports abound, including Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said he would issue an executive order preventing businesses and others in his state from requiring the passports.
It’s not just Republicans who have objections to the passports. Former Rep. Justin Amash, who joined the Libertarian Party last year and briefly explored a presidential bid, shares concerns about vaccine passports, regardless of who make the technology.
“I believe a vaccine passport — even one privately managed — will have exceedingly negative consequences for society,” Mr. Amash tweeted. “I also don’t believe the government will stay out of it; nor do I believe they’ll stop at COVID vaccinations. The expansion of the Patriot Act/FISA is instructive.”
Companies and groups are not waiting for government guidance to develop the tools. IBM has designed a Digital Health Pass, which uses blockchain technology for vaccinated individuals to share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphones that the company said does not share personal or medical information.
Blockchain technology is a digital ledger for recording transactions and tracking assets.
“With blockchain, there is no need to have a central database of healthcare information that could be a target for hackers,” the company said. “Instead, the IBM Digital Health Pass creates a ‘hash’ or fingerprint of the data that is captured on the blockchain, thus becoming immutable. The verification process takes place against that hash instead of the medical information, protecting privacy.”
For those without smartphones, IBM’s system will allow them to print a QR code or to host it on someone else’s device — such as a parent’s smartphone for a child — which can be used to demonstrate their vaccine status.
Others have already adopted a vaccine passport framework. The World Economic Forum is working with the Switzerland-based nonprofit The Commons Project on its CommonPass tool especially for international travelers to document their status on COVID-19 testing and vaccination records.
Airlines already are using CommonPass, including for passengers flying from Japan and Germany to the U.S., said Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project.
Aruba and six countries in East Africa are publicly working with CommonPass, Japan has indicated it will too, and Mr. Meyer said to expect new partnerships with airlines to become public in the coming weeks.
“This is a platform that is designed, first and foremost, to protect data privacy but let basically people demonstrate that they satisfy the requirements,” Mr. Meyer said.
The nonprofit’s U.S. advisory council includes members such as former Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, and Thomas Kalil, former Obama administration official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.