Developers of smartphones are working hard to create a world in which users can keep their Covid vaccination proof safely stored in their digital wallets. This will allow them to tap their phones whenever they enter new buildings.
The development, which concerns some privacy advocates, comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus surges through the U.S. and some cities plan to require people to prove they’ve been vaccinated to enter places like gyms, restaurants and bars.
Google, Apple, and Samsung all announced recently plans to offer a feature which quickly calls up a QR code that can easily be scanned to verify a user’s vaccination status.
Samsung, the manufacturer of Galaxy smartphones, announced Wednesday its partnership with Commons Project, developers for one of a variety of vaccine passport smartphone applications.
The CommonHealth app, which is similar to New York’s Excelsior Pass in New York, asks users for a one-time procedure. They must share their names, dates of birth, and the locations and dates of their vaccines. It connects to vaccination providers to verify this information and creates scannable QR codes with it.
JP Pollak, chief architect of the app, stated that instead of having to pull up CommonHealth (which is a personal healthcare app which wasn’t designed for walking into grocery stores and showing a QR code), you can now store this in an easier place.
Pollak stated, “You can think that at some point in time, your vaccine record happens happen to be something that you need with that much of frequency.”
In June, Google announced that it had developed similar technology for all updated Android phones and that it was seeking vaccination providers. And Apple has said the iPhone’s next operating system, iOS 15, will offer a similar feature when it is released in the fall.
Biden’s administration stated that it would not create a federal vaccine passport. This will leave states and private businesses to verify the vaccination status of people.
The card that is issued to Covid vaccine patients is the closest to a federal system. The cards are bulky and susceptible to wear and tear. They also don’t fit in most wallets.
New York City and California have created state vaccine passports that allow residents to access proof of vaccinations.
New York City began mandating that residents be vaccinated to enter places like bars, gyms and movie theaters Tuesday. San Francisco’s similar initiative begins Friday.
CommonHealth and Excelsior Pass in New York have privacy protections that allow them to store the QR code that identifies a person’s current vaccination status on their phone, instead of sending it to the cloud.
Privacy advocates should be concerned about the existence of digital vaccination passports that can keep track of who has been vaccinated and when.
Albert Fox Cahn is the director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project in New York City.
He said, “Really, it’s like that. On the whole, the vaccine card I keep in my pocket every single day is every bit the same effectiveness and has no drawbacks.”