Government and Policy

Proof of COVID jab will be required for essential domestic activities & global travel: think tank report

‘It is not a matter of if—but when—a COVID Vaccination Certificate will be a prerequisite for essential activities’: Center for Global Development

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A new report from a London and DC-based think tank predicts that COVID Vaccination Certificates will be a prerequisite for essential domestic activities and international travel.

The Center for Global Development (CGD) think tank published a report on Thursday highlighting several reasons why it believes some form of digital COVID Vaccination Certificate (CVC) will be part of the new normal.

“It is not a matter of if—but when—a COVID Vaccination Certificate will be a prerequisite for essential activities, especially cross-border travel” — Center for Global Development Report

According to the report, revaccination campaigns are likely to be launched as the coronavirus mutates into different strains, and having a digital passport will make the certification processes quicker, more secure, and more inclusive.

And it’s only a matter of time, the report argues, until some form of digital COVID vaccination proof will be required for citizens all over the world to participate in essential activities.

“With the expansion of vaccination and the number of different vaccines, the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus, and the dynamic nature of the pandemic—which will possibly require revaccinations as the new strains evolve—it is not a matter of if—but when—a CVC will be a prerequisite for essential activities, especially cross-border travel.”

“To be fit for purpose, such a credential would need to be trusted and able to serve as an on-demand proof of vaccination for both international travel and domestic purposes—anytime and anywhere” — Center for Global Development Report

Cross-border travel can get complicated very quickly when there are almost 200 sovereign nation states with their own rules and regulations regarding the implementation of COVID Vaccination Certificates and digital passports.

For example, the British government says it has no plans of rolling out a vaccine passport while Denmark says it will have one within the next two weeks.

This leaves the British citizen with little choice in the matter if they need to travel to Denmark, and adding more countries into the mix only compounds the situation.

The CDG report argues that agreeing on global standards and building consensus among countries and global health organizations is important to prevent having fragmented systems “that will be difficult to harmonize in the future.”

Britain’s Minister for Vaccine Deployment says that vaccines aren’t mandated in the country because everything is done by consent.

However, for the international traveler, consent looks a lot like coercion in disguise.

Like going from the UK to Denmark, a traveler going from a country that doesn’t mandate COVID vaccine passports to one that does will be faced with two options: accept the digital passport or don’t travel.

Will choosing the jab for the ability to travel be done by consent or coercion? Coerced consent?

This same level of consent is now being touted as a prerequisite for participating in domestic activities with the help of digital identities.

“Many in power hope to make compliance to digital IDs intertwined with vaccination, if not by force then through coercion” — Andreas Vou, European Data Journalism Network

Digital identity systems have long been pursued by governments as a means of financial and civic inclusion while cutting back on fraud, and the idea of leveraging COVID passports with digital identities is quickly gaining global momentum.

A digital identity keeps a record of everything you do online, including what you share on social media, the websites you visit, and your smartphone’s geolocation, and it can house all of the credentials you would normally find in a physical wallet, such as your driver’s license, insurance, and credit cards.

According to a recent article by European Data Journalism Network author Andreas Vou, “Many in power hope to make compliance to digital IDs intertwined with vaccination, if not by force then through coercion.”

“Digital IDs and health passports are being talked up as the only way to return to normal amid COVID-19 but open the door to an unprecedented central surveillance system and an end to personal autonomy through coercion,” he added.

The CDG report also acknowledges that digital passports can “threaten privacy and expand the remit of already excessive ID systems,” which are becoming increasingly digital.

These digital avatars of our physical bodies “determine what products, services and information we can access – or, conversely, what is closed off to us,” according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report from 2018.

“Digital ID for me is a very big part of the future […] Inevitably, governments are going to move in this direction — absolutely, inevitably” — Tony Blair

COVID vaccine passports would be just one component of a wider digital identity scheme that, according to Wired contributor Brett Solomon, “poses one of the gravest risks to human rights of any technology that we have encountered.”

Despite grave risks that threaten all of society, prominent politicians and powerful institutions are adamant that digital identity is the wave of the future.

Speaking at the WEF’s cyber pandemic simulation exercise, Cyber Polygon 2020, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that digital IDs will be a very big part of the future.

“Inevitably, governments are going to move in this direction — absolutely, inevitably,” he said in July, 2020.

“Governments and companies, while claiming that digital health IDs will be optional, are threatening those who opt out with exclusion from the most fundamental of freedoms” — Andreas Vou, European Data Journalism Network

But while governments and corporations move towards adoption, Vou warns that “many in power hope to make compliance to digital IDs intertwined with vaccination, if not by force then through coercion.”

You don’t need a government mandate to coerce a citizen into getting a COVID vaccine passport — all you need is to take away their ability to travel, to gather in public places, or to participate in civic functions if they don’t.

The same goes for private companies. They can’t force you to prove you’ve been jabbed, but they can deny you access to goods and services if you don’t.

According to Vou, “Governments and companies, while claiming that digital health IDs will be optional, are threatening those who opt out with exclusion from the most fundamental of freedoms, which equates to outright coercion into a system that gravely threatens privacy and personal autonomy.”

“Many national ID systems do not enroll young people until they are 16-18 years old, an important demographic group for vaccination” — Center for Global Development Report

The alternative to pegging COVID vaccine passports to a wider digital identity, according to the CDG report, “is to issue a simple paper certificate at exit, together with a QR code based electronic certificate issued via a smartphone.”

However, this alternative is aimed at addressing countries that haven’t developed a robust, nationalized ID system, along with the estimated one billion people on the planet that don’t have any form of ID, half of which are children whose births haven’t been registered.

While the CDG believes COVID Vaccination Certifications are inevitable for domestic and cross-border activities, the World Health Organization has advised governments against using COVID passports for international travel, at least for the time being, because, “There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines.”

As of today, there isn’t a global consensus on standards for adopting and implementing COVID vaccine passports, but several organizations are pushing for just that, including the WEF, the International Air Transport Association, and the European Union, with many more international institutions pushing for digital identities.

While advocates in the public and private sectors speak of COVID vaccine passports as being essential for opening back up safely, fostering digital inclusion, and providing equitable access, critics warn of the erosion of civil liberties by a global, technocratic agenda that uses mass surveillance and coercion to bend citizen behavior to its will — real-world exclusion disguised as digital inclusion.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is the editor of The Sociable. His passions include writing about how technology impacts society and the parallels between Artificial Intelligence and Mythology. Previously, he was a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa and an editor at Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co