Vaccine passports pose discrimination and data protection risks, MPs find

Written by Sam Trendall on 17 June 2021 in News

PACAC claims that government has not made a convincing case for introducing a certification scheme domestically

Credit: Jernej Furman/CC BY 2.0

The government has failed to make the case for vaccine passports, a committee of MPs has said, warning that a status-certification scheme would be “fraught with data protection and security risks” and would likely cause discrimination.

Users of the NHS app can demonstrate that they have been vaccinated against coronavirus, if they need to do so for the purposes of international travel. The Cabinet Office is in the process of reviewing whether to introduce a status-certification system that would enable people who have been fully inoculated to access events or venues in this country.

But the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said there is “no justification” for such a scheme.

In a new report, MPs said the evidence of vaccine uptake– which has been lower among Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and lower socio-economic groups – showed vaccine passports would “disproportionately discriminate” on the basis of race, religion and socio-economic background. It would also discriminate on the basis of age, because of the tiered rollout of the vaccine by age group, they said.

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“While the committee accepts that in emergency situations the prospect of temporary infringement of rights may need to be weighed against public health or other emergency considerations, these occasions should only ever be when there is an overwhelming case of necessity and should, in all situations, be proportionate to that necessity,” the report said.

The report casts doubt on that necessity, arguing that the government has “so far failed to make the scientific case” for vaccine passports.

MPs also raised concerns about privacy, warning that vaccine passports could “provide a back door for the introduction of ID cards”.

It said a certification system could be “fraught with data protection and security risks”.

It noted that unlike the NHS Covid-19 app, no data protection impact assessment has been published for the NHS app, through which people can demonstrate their Covid vaccination status.

The decision to host the existing vaccination-certification function on the NHS app for international travel without consulting parliament “could be construed as contempt for parliament and this committee”, the report said.

"We found the government's approach on this matter to be all the more unfortunate as it appears to us that demonstrating Covid status may become a necessary feature of international travel over the coming months and possibly years in order to avoid excessive quarantine and testing requirements," it added. "As such, any proposals would likely have been looked on favourably by and strengthened through the scrutiny of parliament."


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology


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