Attorney and privacy advocate Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, took only 11 minutes to obtain someone else’s vaccine passport in New York, according to the Washington Post.
The state of New York launched the country’s first vaccine passport program in early April, formally called an Excelsior Pass. The pilot program forces New Yorkers to demonstrate proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test within six hours to gain access to entertainment and arts venues, such as Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center. In order to register for the pass, residents must provide their full name, address, date of birth, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination card. Then the individual is assigned a scannable QR code.
Cahn noted, however, that he “experienced glitches” when he received a QR code. Worse, all information above can be obtained through a vaccination card. Since this is the case, the report says fraud could be a major issue. With people posting videos and pictures online of themselves receiving the vaccine and their vaccine cards, it is conceivable that any posted data can easily be extracted and forged for someone else to obtain a vaccine passport.
Cahn obtained a fraudulent vaccine passport by merely using Twitter and searching for public information. He noted that the passes are the “worst of both worlds,” because the legitimacy problem makes the passes less effective in facilitating public health.
“We need to pay attention to what the private sector is doing as well as what governments are doing and make sure that we regulate if we have to and make sure that they’re fair to everybody,” Nicole Hassoun, a professor at Binghamton University who specializes in public health and ethics told CNBC in March regarding vaccine passports.
The development of the Excelsior Pass in New York was led by IBM, which created the program, through its Digital Health Pass Program. In September, the company received about $23 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to “develop digital health solutions that help address the COVID-19 pandemic.” The other groups awarded contracts include Vibrent Health in Virginia; the University of California, San Francisco; Shee Atiká Enterprises LLC in Alaska; PhysIQ in Chicago; iCrypto Inc. in California; and Evidation Health Inc. in California.
Empire State Development spokeswoman Kristin Devoe told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Thursday that the “Excelsior Pass is a voluntary system that creates a digital copy of a preexisting paper record — it is not a standalone identification document.” That being said, there clearly remain heavy privacy implications, in addition to the blurred lines between how the government will interact with the private sector on the issue of vaccine passports.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration said there will be “no federal mandate” for vaccine passports. In March, the Washington Post reported that the White House is working with private corporations to develop vaccine passports — with coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients playing a major role.
Despite the words from press secretary Jen Psaki, states across the country have taken executive action against vaccine passports or are currently putting forth legislation. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led the charge on April 2, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott doing the same on April 7.