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People may soon need 'vaccine passports' to travel, attend large events


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Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images

With vaccines now being distributed and administered in the United States and around the world to combat the coronavirus pandemic, plans are reportedly under way to produce technologies capable of assessing who has and who hasn't been inoculated.

According to a new CNN report, several international organizations and large businesses — including the World Economic Forum and IBM — have begun "developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to upload details of their COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be shown in order to enter concert venues, stadiums, movie theaters, offices, or even countries."

One of the emerging technologies, known as the CommonPass app, being developed by the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project, a nonprofit based in Geneva, Switzerland, allows users to upload medical data such as a COVID-19 test or, eventually, a proof of vaccination. The app then generates a certificate in the form of a QR code, which users can show to officials reportedly without revealing sensitive information.

The well-known tech firm IBM also created its own app, called the Digital Health Pass, which operates in much the same way but would store credentials in a mobile wallet.

The forthcoming credentialing systems could work as "vaccine passports," the CNN report noted, allowing vaccinated persons to provide a record showing they've received a shot in order to enter venues or travel abroad.

But the new technologies raise several questions as well, such as whether or not those who choose not to get vaccinated, or perhaps simply choose not to allow their medical information to be shared, will be barred from entry into participating venues or countries. That's not even to mention the fact that much of the world's population still doesn't have access to smartphones or the internet.

The news will almost certainly spark a new round of debate over to what extent individual freedom and privacy can be encroached upon in the name of public health, especially as many may still be wary about receiving a vaccine.

Nevertheless, the development of such technologies presses on. Two large groups are even working to establish universal standards for the credentialing systems.

According to CNN, "The Linux Foundation has partnered with the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a collective of more than 300 people representing dozens of organizations across five continents," to make standardized vaccine passports a reality.

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