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IBM Says Its New COVID-19 Passport Is Your Ticket to Normal Life – But Some See Troubles in Privacy Paradise

Anyone who wants to fly to America must present evidence that they’re negative for COVID-19, and with over 400 million vaccinated against the insidious virus worldwide, ‘vaxications’ are on the rise. But photos or print-outs of vaccination records are easily lost or faked – and often illegible. So it’s no surprise that tech companies are jumping into the fray to provide solutions.

On Thursday, a Qatar Airways flight put digital vaccine passports to the test for the first time.

That flight leveraged something called the Travel Pass app from the International Air Transport Association, and it’s just one solution out there. Among the most hotly anticipated is the Digital Health Pass from IBM, which will be used by Moderna, which aim to provide organizations with a way to bring people back to shared physical locations safely, from offices and classrooms to airline flights. While some detractors of vaccine passports say they present unprecedented threats to privacy, security and freedom, IBM tells GOBankingRates that the COVID passport was created with “privacy as the starting point.”

In an exclusive discussion, Anthony Day, Blockchain Partner, IBM Global Business Services, explains that the IBM Digital Health Pass is designed to support organizations as they begin to reopen by enabling individuals to present a verifiable health status to gain access to a public location, such as a sports stadium, airplane, university or workplace.

“Because the IBM Digital Health Pass is built on blockchain technology, it allows individuals to share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone, without the need to share the underlying medical and personal information,” Day says. “With blockchain, there is no need to have a central database of healthcare information that could be a target for hackers. Instead, DHP creates a “hash” or fingerprint of the data that is captured on the blockchain thus becoming immutable. The verification process takes place against that hash instead of the medical information, protecting privacy.”

Blockchain – otherwise known as DLT, or Distributed Ledger Technology – records any event or transaction (think of these as “blocks”) in an encrypted way, making the information immutable, safe and verifiable. While blockchain is the technology underlying Bitcoin (cryptocurrency – literally encrypted money – couldn’t exist without it), the technology has many different applications, particularly in healthcare. The Digital Health Pass, which is built on IBM’s blockchain technology, will allow users to show only encrypted verification of their vaccination status without revealing more personal information openly.

In that sense, it aims to help organizations verify health credentials for employees, customers and travelers based on criteria specified by the organization, such as test results, vaccination records and temperature checks.

Dr. Sean Manion, the Chief Science Officer for ConsenSys Health – part of ConsenSys, one of the world’s biggest blockchain companies – tells GOBankingRates that if it works as promised, the passport will allow those who have been vaccinated and have access to the necessary technology to volunteer and share this information in a hassle-free manner.

“It will allow businesses and governments to ask for this information in an effort to minimize public health risks at venues big and small,” Manion says. “The use of blockchain allows for some level of privacy in what is shared with the business. An airline, cruise ship, concert venue or even smaller businesses like restaurants could use this to screen their potential customers.”

With “COVID passports,” many critics are concerned about very real privacy issues around health data, however. A 2020 study from the journal Healthcare found that nearly 160 million people were subject to healthcare data breaches in just the last five years. Asked about these concerns, IBM’S Day says that the company took a privacy-first approach when designing the Digital Health Pass. Read Full Article >

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