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Government calls for input into Covid-19 vaccine passports

Evidence gathering exercise will inform the development of the UK’s proposed Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme

The government is launching a call for evidence as part of its review of proposed Covid-19 vaccine passports, seeking input from organisations and private individuals with relevant expertise, as well as interested members of the public.

As previously revealed by the prime minister in his Covid-19 exit roadmap, Westminster is examining whether or not some kind of technical vaccine passport could play a part in reopening the UK’s economy, easing restrictions on social contact, and improving public safety in the coming months.

Such a certification – which will likely almost inevitably be centred on a mobile application – would likely use testing or vaccination data to confirm in various settings that people are less at risk of passing the virus on.

The review will take into account aspects around ethics, equality, privacy, legal and operational factors, and explore what limits will need be placed on organisations using certification.

Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, who is leading the probe, said: “This review into Covid-status certification is an important part of our plan to help reopen the country and return to normal.

“However, we recognise that there are complex issues of ethics, privacy and inclusion that need to be fully considered. That is why I want to get as many views as possible on Covid-status certification and its potential implications to help inform the review,” said Gove.

Live tests of one proposed vaccine passport solution, developed by Mvine and iProov with backing from Innovate UK using funding initially announced during the pandemic’s first wave, is currently ongoing with two trials set to report in the next fortnight. The technology uses an unspecified “mathematical model” of the user’s face to associate them with a reference number linked to their Covid-19 test or vaccination.

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It is claimed that this process makes it possible to prove your Covid-19 status and for doctors and nurses to check this is accurate by assuring said status is linked to you, and nobody else. This supposedly does not require the specific identification of individuals, and that no identity is captured or stored.

But many privacy campaigners are not so sure that such measures will be effective or used appropriately. Commenting on the review back in February, the Open Rights Group’s Jim Killock said: “Vaccine passports have the potential to be extremely discriminatory and invasive of personal privacy. They could be used as an excuse for ID cards through the back door. And the supposed benefits may be limited and temporary.”

The review is supposed to include ahead of the planned fourth step of the lockdown easing plan, which is currently set to happen no earlier than 21 June, and if it goes ahead as hoped, will effectively remove all legal restrictions on social contact and end lockdown measures.

Westminster has also published the terms of reference for its review, setting out its full objectives and scope, and a reporting timetable. This can be read here. The call for evidence, meanwhile, will remain open until Monday 29 March.

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