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Vaccine Passports and Databases: Privacy vs. Public Health
Thursday, 8 July 2021
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Virtual (NY Time)

Side Event

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Must we exchange the right to travel for the right to privacy? The question of whether or not to require travelers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or any other communicable disease looms large on many nations’ agendas. This is a pressing question as legislation is currently being formed by individual countries, and national databases of who has and has not received the vaccine are under construction. It is unclear what the effects on people’s privacy will be.

On the one hand, nations need the information to help protect citizens. Requiring proof of vaccination for entry to a country is not a new idea. Over 120 countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination to guard against the international spread of the disease and to protect individual travelers who may be exposed to yellow fever infection, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, collecting data on vaccinations can help control the spread of disease and inform public health efforts more generally.

On the other hand, while nations need the data to help protect citizens, citizens need to be able to protect their privacy and know who is checking their data. Technologically this is possible. With the help of distributed ledger technologies in an open source format, we can protect patient privacy while still being able to contribute to the public good.

Should citizens need to exchange privacy for the public health good? It is not only an important question in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it also demands our attention for vaccine databases that may be likely developed moving forward for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C, or the next communicable public health crisis.

The Roundtable will discuss the issue from many viewpoints, including those of government, industry, and individuals. Some questions that could be explored in the Roundtable: While some countries do require proof of vaccination for diseases like yellow fever and hepatitis, if adopted, the requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination will affect many more people. How will we deal with the scale? Should citizens be able to know who is looking at their data? Is there a system in which citizens can contribute to the public good while maintaining their privacy? Are there standards that could guide an interoperable global effort? What are the benefits to adopting global standards? What pitfalls could we avoid by doing so? What are the potential roadblocks to broad adoption? How to overcome these? What kinds of data have doctors already been adding to national databases? (e.g., antibody testing) A patient has certain rights and verifiers on what can be shared and the doctor or pharmacy also has certain rights on what can be shared. Both are private. How to maintain this? When you travel, will your data be used in a public database? Will privacy be built into the design of the system?

United Nations