As the world looks to slowly emerge from the grip of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and more than a year of associated border closures, travel restrictions, widespread shutdowns and other limitations on once-normal activities, the idea of a digital 'vaccine passport' for COVID-19 is also gaining momentum. While proposals come in different varieties, sometimes called 'vaccine passports,' 'immunity certificates' or 'green passes,' among other names, the underlying idea is the same — to provide a digital certificate or credential intended to prove something about an individual’s health status with respect to the pathogen responsible for COVID-19, such as whether the individual has been vaccinated against, tested negative for or recovered from the virus.
Each implementation requires a combination of health information, identity verification tools and a mechanism for presenting the certificate or credential, typically in the form of a digital wallet that can present a Quick Response (QR) code or another digital artifact. While we are quite focused on the health information and technology components, we should not lose sight of the third identity-related pillar. In fact, rather than thinking about vaccine passports as temporary, isolated, public health-related measures, we should view them as just one example of how the pandemic is accelerating the rollout of digital identity infrastructure and consider the broader implications for society, particularly as commercial and economic incentives predominate.
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