US Immigration News

Challenges Facing COVID Passports, Domestically and Internationally

4.5 minute read
"Many countries around the world are advocating for the use of vaccine passports to ensure the safe return of international travel. Vaccine passports provide documentation as to whether a person has been vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus or has recently tested negative. With the implementation of vaccination drives in several countries, many administrations are considering using a Covid-19 passport before allowing people to cross the border or take public transportation or even participate in a public event."
Written by My Visa Source Team
Published on:  Jun 16, 2021
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Many countries around the world are advocating for the use of vaccine passports to ensure the safe return of international travel. Vaccine passports provide documentation as to whether a person has been vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus or has recently tested negative. 

With the implementation of vaccination drives in several countries, many administrations are considering using a Covid-19 passport before allowing people to cross the border or take public transportation or even participate in a public event. 

What Is a Covid Passport and How Would It Work?

A Covid passport could be any form of certificate or document that shows whether the person is fully vaccinated or has tested negative. These passports can be implemented both nationally and internationally. However, they are also raising various technical, ethical and legal concerns. 

A vaccination passport is nowhere near a new concept. Certain countries require travelers to be vaccinated against certain diseases before allowing them to enter. However, given the recent environment, there has been huge support for making such vaccine passports available on a digital platform which has also given rise to various privacy and data protection concerns since it involves sensitive data about public health and private individuals. 

That is not to say that some version of a Covid passport isn’t already implemented. Many countries have implemented or are considering implementing Covid passports domestically. For example, in Israel, people require a “Green Pass” to visit certain premises or events, in Mainland China, the government has implemented the “Green Health Code” for domestic travel and entry into certain premises. 

Even the European Union (EU) is considering a “Digital Green Certificate” to resume traveling between member countries and abroad. However, the worldwide adoption of such a system still faces many challenges. 

What Are the Challenges Facing the Implementation of a Covid Passport?

The foremost concern of implementing Covid passports is effectively verifying their authenticity. This requires the technology being used to be reliable and secure. It will be very difficult to connect various vaccination bodies to pool data and effectively verify if a Covid passport is authentic. 

Medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies and regulatory authorities, all need to be in the mix to verify the authenticity of a Covid passport. And it is not difficult to get a fake one since there have already been reports of hundreds of fake CDC vaccination cards being sold on websites like eBay. 

Also, many people have data privacy and safety concerns with using such digital platforms. Last year, many countries introduced tracking apps to keep track of travelers coming into the country. Based on how different countries managed such apps, this has raised many concerns about the centralization of such information. However, since the information contained in Covid passports is different from tracking apps, data privacy may be enhanced by limiting the scope of information and using a decentralized platform. 

What Are the Legal Issues Facing the Implementation of a Covid Passport?

The European Data Protection Board and the European Data Protection Supervisor recently adopted a joint opinion on the Proposal for a Digital Green Certificate on March 31, 2021. This joint opinion aims to make it possible for residents of member countries to exercise their right to free movement within the member countries during the pandemic by establishing a common framework for issuing, verifying, and accepting Covid-19 vaccination results, test results or recovery certificates.

This platform will be in line with the EU personal data protection legislation to ensure there are no unintended secondary uses of the data collected through this platform. This mitigates the risks to the fundamental rights of EU citizens and residents.

The joint opinion also states that such passports should not lead to direct or indirect discrimination against individuals and must be accompanied by a comprehensive legal framework to prevent such instances. While these suggestions are helpful, coordinating a comprehensive legal framework on a national level is difficult enough without interloping international implementation in the mix.

As mentioned earlier, certain countries require travelers to present proof of vaccination to obtain a visa. A Covid passport could be considered similarly. However, the domestic implementation of such passports will open up new avenues for discrimination, which will trigger further legal issues.

What Are the Ethical Issues Facing the Implementation of a Covid Passport?

Since there is no clear guidance for the domestic implementation of vaccine passports, employers in the US are concerned about the ethical issues regarding using such certifications in domestic workplaces. Many employers are concerned about whether they can set a precedent for the vaccination status of employees or whether they can make it mandatory for employees to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus.

The answer to these questions is mostly yes, but with limitations. There are some regions where the employer may require employees to give their expressive consent to vaccination, while in other jurisdictions, only a medical provider authorized by the company is in charge of ensuring that everyone is vaccinated. However, it is ethically irresponsible to make it mandatory for everyone to be vaccinated to be employed. Employers can only offer their employees to get vaccinated or promote vaccination. They can not actively make it necessary as a condition of employment.

Employers must review their contracts and manuals to ensure whether the employee’s consent is required for certain circumstances and obtaining such consent in advance. Employers should also consider introducing central guidance in respect of the information on vaccine status. This ensures that no ethical violations of the employee’s rights take place.

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