Will we need vaccine passports to do fun things?

NEWPORT, RI (AP) – Ready to hit town before summer is over? In parts of the United States, you may need to take your COVID-19 vaccination card or a digital copy to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and outdoor music festivals.

After resisting the concept of dividing vaccine passports for most of the pandemic, a growing number of private sites and some local officials are now requiring proof of vaccination in public places to reduce the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus – and to appease suspicious customers.

The United States is unlikely to adopt a national mandate like that of France, which began on Monday requiring people to show a QR code proving they have a special anti-virus pass before they can take advantage of the restaurants and cafes or travel across the country.

But enough sites are starting to ask for digital passes to worry some privacy advocates, who fear the trend may get consumers used to constant tracking.

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WHO APPLIES FOR VACCINE PASSPORTS?

New York City set the tone last week when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city will soon require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone wishing to dine indoors at a restaurant, attend a show. or go to the gym. San Francisco on Thursday announced an even stricter requirement for full proof of vaccination for all customers and staff during a number of indoor activities.

A growing number of private venues, from Broadway theaters to music clubs in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, have also established their own similar rules for guests.

“I firmly believe that people have a right to choose whether or not to get vaccinated,” said Tami Montgomery, owner of Dru’s Bar in Memphis, Tennessee, who has started asking for paper vaccination cards with a coin. identity with photo. “But that’s my business and I have to make decisions based on what will protect my people, my business and my clients.”

Organizers of the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago said on its opening day in late July that more than 90% of the roughly 100,000 attendees presented proof of vaccination, while most of the rest showed they had recently had a negative COVID-19 test. Hundreds more have been turned away for lack of papers. And the event was still linked to more than 200 cases of COVID-19, officials said Thursday.

Only in a handful of states – Texas and Florida are the largest – are private companies prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination.

HOW DO THEY WORK?

In some places, sites just ask you to bring your immunization card – the same piece of paper you get from health providers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Taking a photo of this card at home and then showing the image to the club bouncer can also work.

New York City is offering a streamlined way to show a photo through its NYC COVID Safe app, where people can store images of their immunization cards and then view them in the app when needed.

Other places encourage people to register their credentials using a scannable digital pass like the New York State Excelsior pass or similar systems adopted by California, Hawaii and Louisiana and private companies like Walmart and the Clear Airport Security app. Some of the state-sponsored digital passes verify a person’s vaccine credentials through a state or local immunization registry.

These passes are designed for convenience and to prevent fraud. But that’s also where the biggest privacy concerns emerge, said Adam Schwartz, senior counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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WHAT’S WRONG WITH QR CODES?

The barcode known as the QR code was originally designed to help track products in a factory. Nowadays, it is used more and more to track people’s devices.

“These systems are a giant leap in tracking the location of people,” said Schwartz. “There is a very real risk of mission leakage once there are scanners at the gates and people show their scannable token to pass.”

But the coalition that helped create the smart health card framework used by New York City, California and the Canadian province of Quebec say they already have privacy safeguards in place to guard against the misuse of personal data. health.

As long as a site is using an IVC-enabled scanner, there shouldn’t be much to worry about, said Dr Brian Anderson, chief medical officer of digital health at MITER and co-lead of the Vaccination Credential Initiative, who counts Apple, Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic among its members. “This app will not store an individual’s data beyond the moment the QR code is scanned,” he said.

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WHY NOT SAVE THE PAPER?

Supporters of digital passports say they’re more convenient for restaurants and other already busy places because workers don’t have to look at everyone’s immunization cards before letting them in. Queues move faster, and digital scanning gives reassurance to those who don’t want to risk damaging or losing their paper cards. It is also easy to forge a paper card or a photo of a card.

Startup CrowdPass, which generates QR codes for vaccinated people to attend events, said it has enabled around 15,000 people to be quickly admitted to recent Newport Folk and Newport Jazz festivals in Rhode Island. The events required participants to digitally upload proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test.

Demand was slow at first, said Duncan Abdelnour, co-founder and president of the startup. “But since the Delta variant came into being, we’ve had a huge increase.” Among its clients are couples planning weddings and planners of other small events. Abdelnour said the biggest peak in calls came after New York City’s announcement.

It’s a crowded marketplace that includes apps created by Clear and Walmart, many of which have now signed on to the VCI’s privacy standards and code of conduct.

But for EFF’s Schwartz, the best advice for sites that need to see proof of vaccination is to stick to asking for the CDC card or a photo of it.

The immunization verification process is expected to end when the pandemic ends, Schwartz said. “Some of the companies in this space have a track record of data monetization,” he added. “I’m not going to name names, but these are the last people who should be involved in developing proof of vaccination scanners.

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AP Editor-in-Chief Mae Anderson contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.

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