Want to attend a sports stadium, concert, or other public event in New York state? Hope you’ve had your COVID-19 vaccine, or at least had a negative COVID test. Without proof of either of these, you could be turned away at the door.

On Friday, New York was the first state in the U.S. to roll out an app that verifies if you have been vaccinated for COVID-19, or if you have been tested, and received negative results. The new app cost New York $2.5 million to develop.

The “Excelsior Pass Wallet” is a free app produced by IBM’s Digital Health Pass that allows certain websites that have stored your COVID-19 vaccination results, or results from a negative COVID-19 test to then upload the information onto the app. (Negative COVID-19 PCR test results are good for 72 hours on the app, with antigen test results remaining valid for only 6 hours.)

After having activated the app, a QR code is produced and the venue is able to verify your COVID-19 status using a companion app. Users also have the ability to print out their specialized QR code and bring it with them to the venue.

“Your papers, please.”

While businesses are not required to use the app, those who have chosen to use Excelsior Pass will benefit by being allowed to hold more patrons and fill more empty seats than venues who opt-out of the service.

The app will reportedly not show any health information, only a green checkmark or red “X” will appear on the screen when the QR code has been scanned.

Though both Governor Andrew Cuomo and IBM have stated that Excelsior’s use of blockchain and encryption technology to keep user’s data secure can be trusted, others aren’t so sure.

Attorney and founder of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn recently told Gothamist/WNYC, “I have more detailed technical documentation about the privacy impact of nearly every app on my phone than I do for this health pass. IBM and the governor are using lots of buzzwords, but they’re not explaining their cryptographic model. They’re not explaining the security, implementation. And on top of it, the pass itself is incredibly revealing, disclosing not only people’s health status, and name but their date of birth.”

According to Gothamist/WNYC, Cahn’s main concern is that there is nothing in the details of the app’s Terms of Service that assures the user this same personal information being collected by the app won’t be used by local police departments, ICE or other government agencies.

While this technology is voluntary for now, how long until this same system is implemented through different employers, required before entering grocery stores, gas stations, to move freely city to city or state to state, or required to enter schools?

Some schools have already started to use the QR system for COVID contact tracing and to ensure that students and staff have been tested for the virus before they are able to return to school in person.

The Vaccine Credential Initiative which includes Microsoft, Walmart, Oracle, and CVS, amongst others are working on a system that will include not only a user’s digital vaccination records, but one that will give the user access to their entire health history with the swipe of a finger. What could possibly go wrong?

In addition, the VA has been working with the Vaccine Credential Initiative to track veterans who have been vaccinated against COVID and will be implementing a VA-issued vaccine credential.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the Biden administration is working tirelessly to come out with a universally accepted version of the COVID passport that would require patrons to show they have been vaccinated against the virus before being allowed to enter certain venues.

From The Post:

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is participating in the WHO’s effort to create “digital vaccination certificates,” also is preparing to help advise on the passport rollout. The health agency says it is expecting to play a role in determining which organizations will credential and issue the certificates, in addition to informing the public, according to CDC documents reviewed by The Post.”

Thus far, 17 individual passport initiatives are underway, according to slides shared with The Washington Post from The Office of The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology:

Biden’s COVID czar, Jeff Zeints – who joined onto Facebook’s board during the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, leads the COVID passport initiative. Zients oversaw Facebook’s Audit & Risk Oversight Committee from 2018-2020, with SEC filings showing he was compensated $100,000 in cash and $300,000 in stocks for his work on the board in 2019.

According to ABC News: “Zients reported owning between $89.3 million and $442.8 million in assets, including various investment funds, real estate properties and cash shares. He has divested his shares in his private investment firm, Cranemere Group, as well as $1 million worth of shares in Facebook, where he has served as a board member.”

Zeints now surpasses Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general who according to filings, is said to have between $42 million and $187 million in assets.

There are dozens and dozens of unanswered questions and troublesome issues that come along with the proposed vaccine passports. Ethical concerns also linger, such as having part of the population be willing to contract the virus in order to find work or travel and discrimination against those who are unvaccinated. Federal overreach, enforcement of the vaccine passports, and immunity timelines also top the list of concerns among the general population.

According to The Washington Post, Zeints will be briefing governors this week on the state of the vaccine initiative.

Haley Kennington
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