COVID vaccine passports will fail unless government wins public trust, ICO warns

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Plans to introduce COVID-19 vaccine certification will only work in practice if ministers make efforts to gain public trust, the head of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has claimed.

The government is considering developing some form of vaccination pass to help businesses and society open up safely as restrictions continue to ease, in the form of a digital ID used to access services or enter businesses can.

However, such a program, whether developed by the government or a private company, requires buy-in by the general public to function as intended, information commissioner Elizabeth Denham warned. Nor is it good enough to simply expect trust or adoption based on overall social benefits.

“The obvious benefits of data-driven innovation in both the public and private sectors come from trust, and we’ve seen this clearly over the past year, from contact tracking apps to data sharing to help vulnerable people providing protection.” Denham said at the 2021 Data Protection Practioner’s Conference.

“The example that is now dominating the headlines on domestic vaccine certificates is another good example. The success of a COVID status scheme depends on people trusting it. This means that they can be confident in how the system would use their personal information. “

She claimed that developers involved in the development of the contact tracing apps across the UK, including the decentralized states, had shown a keen interest in maintaining user privacy at every stage, despite major concerns previously. There was also real recognition of the value of public trust and engagement, she added, although that doesn’t mean public trust can be taken for granted in the future.

“There is just no option for an organization today,” she continued, “public or private sector, to say,” how we use data is complex, but this service is important so just trust us. “This is true for COVID status certificates as well as for social media companies or app developers. “

For months, the government has been playing with the idea of ​​introducing a digital certificate that people will have to show to prove they have been vaccinated or have recently returned a negative test as restrictions are lifted.

While this is a highly controversial move, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that plans are underway to integrate this so-called vaccination record feature into the NHS app. Digital privacy experts previously advised caution as there are concerns that collected data could be used beyond the scope and schedule of the pandemic.

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Similar warnings were issued in advance of the launch of the NHS COVID-19 app as well as the NHS manual test and trace program. The main accusation was that the uptake would not be high enough for these programs to work without public trust.

For example, the NHS COVID-19 app went through a difficult development process and as a result, it may have lost public trust.

Ministers were initially interested in developing a centralized version rather than relying on the decentralized design from Google and Apple. This is because the government’s original plans included collecting location data to map areas with high rates of infection. However, these efforts were abandoned due to security issues and bugs, and the government decided instead to develop an app based on the decentralized model.

The NHS manual test and trace program also raised eyebrows at launch, without officials conducting a data protection impact assessment (DPIA). Alleged shortcomings in the way the project was managed also resulted in privacy activists taking legal action against the program.

Details of the in-depth vaccination record program are scarce, including when it may be introduced. However, it is widely expected to be an important step in the government’s post-COVID roadmap.

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