Immunity Passports Are A Threat To Our Privacy And Information Security

Immunity Passports Are A Threat To Our Privacy And Information Security from Humans Are Free

With states beginning to ease shelter-in-place restrictions, the conversation on COVID-19 has turned to questions of when and how we can return to work, take kids to school, or plan air travel.

by Alexis Hancock and Karen Gullo

Several countries and U.S. states, including the UK, Italy, Chile, Germany, and California, have expressed interest in so-called “immunity passports” — a system of requiring people to present supposed proof of immunity to COVID-19 in order to access public spaces, work sites, airports, schools, or other venues.

In many proposed schemes, this proof would be stored in a digital token on a phone.

Immunity passports would threaten our privacy and information security, and would be a significant step toward a system of national digital identification that can be used to collect and store our personal information and track our location.

Immunity Passports Are A Threat To Our Privacy And Information Security

Immunity passports are purportedly intended to help combat the spread of COVID-19. But there is little evidence that they would actually accomplish that.

On a practical level, there is currently no test for COVID-19 immunity; what we have are antibody tests. But we don’t know whether people with antibodies have immunity.

Meanwhile, there has been a flood of flawed tests and fraudulent marketing schemes about antibody tests. Even when validated tests are widely available, they may not be 100 percent accurate.

The system should be a non-starter unless it can guarantee due process for those who want to challenge their test results.

This has often been a problem before; as we saw with the “no-fly” lists created after 9/11, it is very difficult to get off the list, even for those whose inclusion was a mistake.

The problem with immunity passports isn’t just medical — it’s ethical. Access to both COVID-19 testing and antibody testing is spotty.

Reports abound of people who fear they have been infected desperately trying to get tested to no avail.

Analysis has shown that African Americans are far less likely than white, Hispanic, or Asian patients to be tested before they end up in the emergency room.

Mobile testing sites administered by Verily (a subsidiary of Google’s parent Alphabet) require people to have a smartphone and a Google account.

Residents in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, were turned away from testing sites because they didn’t have cell phones.

Requiring smartphone-based immunity verification to access public spaces like offices and schools would exacerbate existing inequities and reinforce a two-tiered system of the privileged, who can move about freely in society, and the vulnerable, who can’t work, shop, or attend school because they don’t have a cell phone or access to testing.

We’ve been here before. When yellow fever struck the South in the 1850s, those thought to be “unacclimated” to the disease were unemployable.

This burdened Black and lower-income people more than privileged members of society.

As we saw then, conditioning access to society on immunity incentivizes “bug-chasing” — that is, people deliberately trying to get sick in order to get the immunity passport.

No one should have to expose themselves to a potentially deadly disease with no cure to find work.

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