The head of the UK’s data privacy watchdog has told MPs she can see the benefit of Covid-19 immunity passports, but warned they came with privacy concerns.
Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham was asked by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation about the possible use of special passports to allow those who had been vaccinated to move more freely.
She said any such scheme would face substantial questions over its necessity and concerns over the sharing of health data, but warned of creating a “two-tier system” where people who have received a vaccine have more freedoms than those who have not.
“We would approach a detailed proposal around a vaccination passport or a freedom passport in the way that we do any initiative.
“That is, is it necessary? Does it work – does it do what it says on the tin? Is it proportionate? And is there transparency?” she told MPs.
“We’re talking about personal health information, which is a special category of data that requires controls.
.@DamianHinds asks about privacy impact of a 'vaccine passport'.
Elizabeth Denham: We'd approach it same as any Govt policy – is it necessary, proportionate, transparent & does it work? But it also raises human rights qs: is it identity by the back door, a two-tier society, etc?
— Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsDCMS) January 26, 2021
“So at the outset, we would ask the Government the same questions that we asked them about the contact tracing app.
“I think with immunity passports, some of the issues are beyond data protection.
“They touch on human rights, they touch on whether or not we’re going to create a two-tier society based on whether you have a jab in the arm, and the concerns over whether or not this is ‘identity by the back door’.
“So those are some of the concerns I would have.
“When we start talking about immunity passports that are digital or tacked on to the contact tracing application then I think those are real questions for policymakers.”
She added that trust in the system among the public would be vital.
“I could see that vaccine passports, of some sort, would be useful. I can see that,” she said.
“But people have to trust the Government when they bring in these initiatives to understand what’s the purpose, to narrow it as much as possible, and make sure at the end of the day, that their civil liberties, human rights and data protection are respected.”