Swindon & Wiltshire Business News

Pub-goers could be kept out of their local if digital vaccine passports are poorly designed – warning

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IT experts have warned digital vaccine passports could mean entry to cinemas or pubs is ‘denied by an algorithmic decision,’ after the Prime Minister said bars goers could be asked to provide a vaccine certificate.

Creating a portable vaccine proof by adapting an app is technically possible, but comes with ethical and data privacy challenges, according to Swindon-based BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

A situation may result where going to venues around the UK could demand as much ‘linked data’ to from us as international travel, the charity advised.

Adam Leon Smith, chairman of BCS’ software testing group said: “It is not necessary to create any central digital identifiers for vaccine validation purposes, but some countries may be tempted to.

"One reason that healthcare authorities might want to identify people centrally is to manage the vaccination process itself, another might be to exclude vaccinated individuals from particular mass testing activities.

“But then you can easily imagine how this data might be joined with other information, such as address, or key worker status.

"All with sensible intentions, but care needs to be taken that this data is not misused.

"One example of inappropriate use could be the calculation of a risk score, and denial of rights or services to someone because of an algorithmic decision.

“For example, denying cinema access to someone because an algorithm computes their home location as being a high-risk one, their key worker status as inferring they are an NHS front-line worker.

“Another complexity with personal risk calculations is that putting this data inside an "app" can extrapolate the findings in ways that weren't originally intended.

“It is vital to convince people that the passport will be ethical by design for it to be supported by large numbers of the population and the key organisations who’ll make it work.”

Rick Chandler, who chairs BCS’ communications management association, and was on the steering group for the UK ID Card, said: “To give mobile-based digital ID sufficient International credibility it would be necessary for the Government to insist on full registration even when purchasing, say, a Pay as you Go SIM.

"This is normal in many countries. Secure Fingerprint cards and QR could be used as well.

"I can envisage ‘non-vac’ areas in pubs and restaurants much like the “no-smoking” areas and it should be a matter of individual choice and managed ethically.”

On international passports, Chiara Rustici, a legal and data expert with BCS said: “The tech may already be there, but the underlying infrastructure of countries' mutual recognition of vaccine passports is not: any kind of passport only works if all countries recognise it.

"Nationalism should give way to multi-country effort to coordinate with WHO.”

Dr Philip Scott, chairman of the BCS health and care executive added: “In fact, some of the information standards work needed to share vaccination status has already been done, for example the International Patient Summary project.

"What is lacking is international policy, infrastructure and operational processes to certify and transfer the data - which frankly is no different from current barriers between the four nations of the UK.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is to lead a review into the possible adoption of vaccine passports after Boris Johnson acknowledged ‘deep and complex issues’ around their introduction.