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The Covid-19 Passport And Its Implications

The Covid-19 Passport And Its Implications

Ever since the pandemic hit, many countries shut down their borders to international tourists and there was plenty of speculation on whether life would ever go back to normal. While many of us were aware that things might never be the same, with time we would learn to adjust. As is what’s happening today! Over a year down the line, we are learning to adapt with the Coronavirus still pretty much present as it was in March 2020.

The last year virtually seems to have zoomed past us. We are now looking at a future with plenty of vaccines and Covid-19 passports determining our travels. In fact, in April 2021, the UK government decided to issue what they call Covid-19 passports or Covid-status certification.

So, what is the Covid-19 passport?

Though this has not been finalized, the UK government is in talks of issuing a Covid-passport that will follow a certain theme. To enter the UK, tourists will need to show proof of test results. Though this has been set in place for a while now, the British authorities have not yet decided whether or not businesses will require the same to continue work. While the former hasn’t been confirmed, it will be necessary for certain areas such as the use of public transport to ensure safe and easy access.

As the vaccines are not suitable for everybody, the government is still looking into how tourists and locals can acquire a certification to avoid the risk of spreading the disease. At present, it is said that those who have negative test results or have contracted the virus in the past and are now immune might need to provide documents that state so. NHS has now launched a feature in their app that shows proof of vaccine and can be used as a so-called “Covid-passport” at border control.

The UK is now determined to move to the final stages of ending restrictions. Since many economies throughout the world have suffered from the pandemic, the British authorities hope that this certification will help ease the constraints and allow them to finally be able to reopen certain parts of the economy.

The NHS App And Its Uses:

The NHS app allows all individuals to view a summary of their medical history upon logging in. Initially, it was used for all medical purposes but recently they launched a section that provides details of Covid-19 history and vaccination status if requested. The app also allows users to download a PDF version or they can simply ask for a copy to be emailed to them.

At present, however, not many countries are accepting these NHS documents as sole proof and still conducting their own tests on arrival. However, within the UK, for larger events, this might serve as proof for example, at concerts and sporting events.

Will travel companies require you to provide a Covid-passport?

When it comes to travel companies, there may be some legal issues involved. Especially when considering the Equality Act 2010 (ES 2010) which applies to all travel-related companies such as travel agents and tour guides. According to this act, these companies are strictly prohibited from discriminating against people belonging to various races, religions, age groups and sexual orientations. However, when travel companies refuse holidays to customers unless they have proof of vaccination, this may count as discrimination. Individuals who are unable to take the vaccines due to health reasons or other disabilities see this as indirect discrimination. While this could be passed off as lawful when analyzed as means of achieving a valid goal, getting the vaccination doesn’t necessarily mean the individual cant transmit or contract the Coronavirus.

The authorities are still looking into different ways travel can be made easier without having a Covid-passport. For example, asking people to take tests before travel or proof of whether they have contracted the virus in the past. However, if having had the vaccine becomes a legal prerequisite in countries other than the UK then avoiding it altogether may not be a choice.

Though this is a step in the right direction, many wonder what this means in terms of their data privacy.

But, what are some of the data privacy implications?

Looking at the situation from a privacy perspective, in order for the Covid-certification scheme to work, the authorities and travel companies need to gain the trust of the travellers and tourists. Many are still hesitant because they are unaware that their data might not be kept private or may not be used for the right purposes. This is mostly an issue for the travel industry. If consumers feel their data is being misused, it could seriously damage the travel companies’ reputation and hurt their business.

For this to truly work, the scheme needs to comply with the regulations set in place by the GDPR. According to the GDPR, there are certain principle concepts that must be abided by.

These include codes such as:

  • All data must be judged fairly and be free of discrimination.
  • Must be lawfully assessed. This means that in case the Covid-certification is not for travel purposes then consumers consent is necessary. If it is for travel then consumers should be ensured their data will only be used legitimately.
  • There needs to be transparency. This implies that consumers should be informed of what data will be collected and how exactly it will be used.
  • Consumers also need to be ensured security. Since a large amount of data will be collected on all citizens, it will be a target for hackers. This type of data is sensitive and should be given top priority in terms of security. 
  • Lastly, only a crucial and minimal amount of data must be collected. Since the scheme is focused on collecting data regarding Covid-19, it should strictly stick to that.

However, it is quite complex to ensure all these core principles are met since data is being shared with third parties such as border control in other countries. Though the scheme hasn’t officially launched yet, once it has, it must be made on the obligation to conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) to minimize risks and be sure data is protected.

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