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NHS App to serve as vaccine passport for foreign holidays

Existing NHS App will have vaccine passport functionality added to it, transport secretary confirms

As the government moves closer to reopening the UK to non-essential travel, transport secretary Grant Shapps has revealed that vaccine passport functionality to enable people to prove they have received either a Covid-19 vaccine or negative test, will be added to the existing NHS App that is used by patients to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view medical records.

Speaking to Sky News, Shapps said: “We are working on an NHS application. It will be the NHS App that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show that you’ve had a vaccine or you’ve had testing.

“I’m working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that that system can be internationally recognised.”

Shapps told the news channel that within the next week, he will be chairing a meeting of his G7 counterparts with responsibility for transport policy on the subject.

Government sources confirmed to Sky News that the controversial NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing mobile app would not be used.

The earliest date when non-essential international travel will be possible from the UK is 17 May, and in the next few weeks, the government is expected to release more details of which countries will be placed on its so-called green list of destinations to which holidaymakers can travel with a minimal burden in terms of testing and quarantine measures.

Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said that although the announcement would be welcome news for pandemic-weary consumers in need of a break, the plans posed major privacy and civil liberties risks.

“Beyond the obvious privacy concerns surrounding the development of massive stores of personal health data, NHS numbers, passport numbers and individuals’ travel histories, there is also a major concern that the data collected by the vaccine passport scheme may be used beyond the scope and timeline of the pandemic by the government or even other third-party agencies,” said Tomaschek.

“Could the information collected under the scheme be used alongside other personal data to generate so-called ‘personal risk scores’ of the kind we have seen in China for individual UK residents?

“Could the scheme be used for other outbreaks, other public health purposes, or other completely unrelated purposes in the future? These scenarios are certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Either way, a vaccine passport scheme certainly opens the door for data misuse that is both extended and ongoing.”

Tomaschek said that although there were clear benefits to a vaccine passport scheme, officials would still need to be extremely cautious in its implementation, to avoid UK citizens being subjected to unreasonably intrusive checks.

Read more about vaccine passports

  • What are the security issues and challenges presented by vaccine passports, and how should they be designed and used with ethics and privacy in mind?
  • Privacy campaigners warn that vaccine passports may turn out to be discriminatory and invasive, while technologists agree careful consideration must be given to their design.

Read more on Privacy and data protection

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