New York State’s Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, announced the launch of a blockchain Covid19 passport to allow the voluntary sharing of Covid19 Vaccination and Test Status.
The new passport, which will go by the name of Excelsior Pass, was developed in partnership with IBM using blockchain technology to ensure the authenticity, security, and privacy of the data.
The acquisition of the passport is completely voluntary, as well as free, and it will be used by participating theaters, stadiums, arenas, and other types of events that want to operate in accordance with the state’s guidelines.
Many Ways to Obtain the Blockchain-based Pass
Users who apply for the pass will be able to use it in the same way as a mobile airline boarding pass, print it, or use the Excelsior Pass Wallet app to share recent negative PCR/Antigen test results and proof of vaccination, which participating businesses can then confirm by scanning a secure QR code.
While the United States and other countries around the world have started rolling out the Covid19 Vaccines, the economy has still failed to reactivate in most places as businesses have struggled to make up for the deficits created by the pandemic in the form of social distancing and other measures.
A Health Tool Powered by Blockchain Technology
According to the statement published by the Governor’s office, the decision behind the use of blockchain technology to encrypt data was the “special emphasis” that was given to user privacy, as well as making the information easily verifiable and trusted.
According to James Wester, Research director for IDC Worldwide Blockchain Strategies, the technology will not only ensure the security and authentication of the data but also provide individuals with control of what, where, and when the data is shared with participating businesses.
No information on how the blockchain software works on the backend has been given by the Governor’s office nor IBM, which has resulted in concerns due to the lack of privacy policies or reviewable code.
The pilot program for the Pass took place during the first days of March during Brooklyn Nets’ game at the Barclays Center and a New York Rangers game in March at Madison Square Garden, which the government and its partners considered positive.
The Controversy Around Health Passports
The use of health passports has been a matter of controversy in the last months due to the potentials they have to become a tool that outlives the pandemic but Governor Cuomo believes that the measure is necessary to protect the health of New York residents and reactivate the economy.
Governor Cuomo stated,
“The question of ‘public health or the economy’ has always been a false choice — the answer must be both. As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening.”
Those who oppose the use of Covid19 passports believe that they could result in social stratification on a global scale due to the inequality in the distribution of the vaccines
Michael Ryan, Head of the World Health Organization Heal-Emergencies Response Team, referred to this situation earlier this month by stating:
“Inequity and unfairness can be further branded into the system if we continue to make decisions on what people can and can’t do, where they can and can’t go on the basis of being vaccinated when being vaccinated itself is not something that everyone has equal access to.”
While the Excelsior is still far from restricting those who have not been vaccinated from accessing essential services such as travel and public transport, the decision has raised concerns among privacy advocates.
Some think the project might have been rushed due to allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, which are numerous.