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Britain to start digital health passport trials

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The UK government will soon begin giving vaccine passports to people who have received the coronavirus jab and the debate about the ethical and legal ramifications of digital vaccine passports continues.

The trial phase of the passport will begin this month. The passport is a free smartphone app developed by cybersecurity firm Mvine and biometrics expert iProov. The app will provide evidence that a user has received the vaccine.

The trial’s purpose is to demonstrate how vaccine passports could be useful to the NHS in tracking the number of people who have received the jab, which comes in two doses.

Meanwhile, government officials continue to give mixed messages regarding vaccine passports. The Department of Health and Social Care had said that there were no such plans, the Telegraph reports.

“At this stage of the vaccination programme, it is not clear whether vaccines will prevent transmission,” a spokesperson of the department said. “As large numbers of people from at-risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should, in time, lead to a reassessment of current restrictions.”

However, the secretary in-charge of overseeing the vaccine’s rollout, Nadhim Zahawi, said that the government was “looking at the technology.”

Opponents to the idea of vaccine passport raise ethical and legal concerns. In fact, the Ada Lovelace Institute launched a study to review “the ethics, science, law, and precedence of such passports.”

Some have noted that these passports could lead to discrimination, and two classes of citizens – one with a digital ID and one without.

It also raises several privacy and ethics questions, whether people want to live in a world where their health history has to be digitally declared to enter a venue.

Recent research carried out by Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter Law School has explored this in detail.

Dr Beduschi reported: “Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights. They build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights individuals may enjoy.

“Given that digital health passports contain sensitive personal information, domestic laws and policies should carefully consider the conditions of collection, storage and uses of the data by private sector providers.

“It is also crucial that the communities that have already been badly impacted by the pandemic have swift access to affordable tests and, eventually, vaccines. Otherwise, deploying digital health passports could further deepen the existing inequalities in society.”

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