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COVID-19 Health Passes Ignite New Debate On Digital ID

The push toward digital IDs, toward tracking who’s who – and, in this case, who’s safe – may be getting a tailwind from air travel. To that end, a quintet of airlines is debuting digital health passes that certify travelers do not have the coronavirus. That passport, of a sort, will be known as CommonPass – and will certify negative COVID test results.

The airlines include United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Swiss International Airlines, JetBlue and Lufthansa. In a release, the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project Foundation said the Airports Council International had joined as a member of the CommonTrust Network. That network is a nonprofit initiative designed to provide individuals with digital access to health information – which would, in this case, include vaccines. The council represents thousands of airports around the globe.

CommonPass – an app that was first successfully trialed in October on Cathay Pacific Airways and United Airlines flights internationally between Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and New York – will roll out more broadly next month.

“Without the ability to trust COVID-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists,” Dr. Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of The Commons Project and former chief strategy and innovation officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noted in the release.

The pass is not mandatory, but at least some airlines are signaling changes requiring that passengers have vaccinations – and proof of them – in place before they travel. In one example, Qantas’ CEO said that international travel likely won’t get back to normal without compulsory vaccinations, and that international travelers on the airline must have that documentation in place.

The CommonPass – both as an app and as a data-sharing framework – would be an effort to reduce reliance on paper documentation and the fragmentation that can exist when those documents cross borders and languages.

There are indications that other digitally-focused public health efforts are gaining momentum where crowds gather. Ticketmaster, according to reports, has been developing its own initiative to verify, through its app and medical companies, whether people have been vaccinated against or tested for the virus. But the ultimate parameters and protocols – as to whether documentation would be required – will be left to event promoters, as reported earlier this month.

The digital ID – no matter the setting – touches off controversy, especially along the lines of privacy and data protection. The World Bank has been putting resources to work in promoting digital ID efforts. But overhanging it all has been the technological and services aspects necessary to ensure that the information and identity being presented is in fact true – with implications for commerce, of course.

In an interview with PYMNTS earlier this year, Boku CEO Jon Prideaux pointed to the fact that “in the age of mobile, there is no instant signifier of identity the way an email address was in the PC era.” Philipp Pointner, chief product officer at Jumio, predicted that there will be a shift from paper and plastic documents toward digital ID verification. In discussing digital IDs with Webster, he said there could be momentum created through the global consortium of passport-issuing agencies.

“If they develop a funnel for digital passports, that will automatically ‘trickle down’ and be adopted by all of the different countries,” Pointner said of those agencies. Digital passports can eventually be part of digital “identity wallets.”

In the not-too-distant future, then, the wallets and passport holders, the drivers’ licenses and boarding passes, may all be rendered in bits and bytes.

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