The so-called Digital Green Certificate will be a QR code-based system that will provide individuals with proof of vaccination, proof of recovery from the Chinese coronavirus, or the results of a COVID-19 test. The certificate will be available either as a paper hard copy or through a smartphone application.
The Commission claimed that the scheme will be temporary and that it will be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares an end to the Chinese coronavirus world health emergency.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, said: “The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonized digital tool to support free movement in the EU. This is a good message in support of recovery.
“Our key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”
The announcement comes just a little over a week after Communist China became the first country in the world to roll out a vaccine passport.
Countries that are heavily dependent economically on the tourism industry, such as Greece and Spain, have been at the forefront of the effort to introduce a vaccine passport in order to open up travel by the summer. Other nations within the bloc, such as France, have warned that the scheme could lead to discrimination against those who cannot or who have refused to take the vaccine.
Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way.”
The practicality of such a scheme is still in question, however, as the European Union has struggled to vaccinate its populations, with less than ten per cent of people within the 450 million-person bloc being vaccinated, compared to over a third of the UK receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the bloc might need to enact emergency powers in order to block the further export of coronavirus vaccines to the UK and other countries to bolster their struggling inoculation drive. This comes after false accusations from eurocrats that Britain was blocking exports of the AstraZeneca jab.
On the issue of privacy for the vaccine passports, the European Commission said that it will build a software “gateway” through which no personal data will be shared or retained by the EU member states to which an individual travels. This is to ostensibly give confidence that “a very high level of data protection will be ensured”.
Rob Shavell, the CEO of the privacy firm DeleteMe, said that it was wrong for governments to proclaim that these systems will remain secure.
“Time and time again governments say that they are providing a data service to their citizens and claim that it will be protected, but what we see is this information ending up in data profiles available on Google searches,” Shavell said.
“The systems we have are too complicated and once that data gets digitized and out there and replicated in the country’s database that you are traveling to, with its own set of privacy protocols, you are looking at an expanding universe” of data that cannot be kept secure, the DeleteMe CEO explained.
Mr Shavell also warned that ultimately personal health data will be used for “algorithmic discrimination”. He said that algorithmic discrimination could range from employers refusing to hire prospective employees, insurers refusing service, to certain groups being prioritized for economic opportunities.
The vaccine passport scheme still needs the approval of EU leaders as well as lawmakers in Brussels before coming into law. ✪