Technology

Tech firms proposing designs for UK COVID-19 immunity passports are mulling a ‘shared database’ to track cases across borders

 


Senior executives at two identity-verification startups have suggested creating a new “shared database” to track COVID-19 cases across international borders.
There has been widespread speculation that the UK could roll out such passports in the next 12 months, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to end the nation’s strict lockdown.
In a public post on LinkedIn, identify CEO Domantas Ciulde — who has submitted proposals to UK officials — said ID firms could “combine our efforts” to track cases around the world.
Roger Tyrzyk, the UK manager of IDnow, which has held talks with ministers behind closed doors, agreed the database was worth considering — so long as it abided by European privacy laws.
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Senior executives at two identity-verification startups — both in the running to design COVID-19 immunity passports for the UK — have suggested creating an international database to track infections.

The German startup IDnow and Lithuania’s identity submitted their designs for immunity passports to the British government last month, following an open call for tech-driven solutions to the pandemic from health officials.

There has been speculation the UK could roll out such passports in the next 12 months, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to end the nation’s lockdown.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in April that the UK was looking at an immunity certificate.

But Downing Street said on Monday that the UK’s healthcare system was still in the early stages of seeing what was viable. The UK published proposals from tech firms late last week on how the immunity passport might work.

In a LinkedIn post published Monday, Domantas Ciulde, the CEO of identity, called on his counterparts at IDnow, Yoti, Onfido, and OCL to consider combining efforts to share patient information across borders.

“I believe biometric recognition companies can make important things in such pandemic situations,” he wrote.

If the World Health Organization would support the idea of using immunity passports, he continued, “what do you think about the opportunity to combine our efforts in developing a standard and shared database of immunity passports, test results, and other important information?”

He added: “The great thing about such a database is that it could be built very quickly…It is much easier and faster for local companies to implement new products in a native region…

“Guys, what do you think?”

Responding to the post, Roger Tyrzyk, iDenfy’s UK manager, said the idea was “something to consider” moving forward.

“It does make sense to take a step forward to bring identity in line as a whole,” he wrote after saying that any solution would need to comply with European privacy laws and would need to actually be in demand by governments.

The concept of a cross-border database to track COVID-19 is likely to trigger alarm among privacy advocates, who fear that the tech under consideration might evolve into a wider form of surveillance.

On Monday, lawyers at the data-rights agency AWO, alongside experts from Matrix Chambers and Blackstone Chambers, published a legal opinion online that outlined their legal recommendations for immunity passports, contact tracing, and data sharing.

“Such a step would engage a number of fundamental rights under the ECHR and EU/UK legislation concerning the right to privacy and protection of personal data,” it said, referring to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Any proposals would require very substantial evidential justification to show that they are necessary and proportionate.”

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