The first episode in a three-webinar online event exploring digital health passes and the relation between vaccination certificates and digital ID systems was held on 8 April focusing on policy issues. ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr Joseph Atick began the session by noting that the ID4Africa movement does not endorse nor oppose health passes but wants to encourage whatever is rolled out to be effective and responsible.
Speakers during the event included Natschja Ratanaprayul and Derek Muneene of the World Health Organization, Dr Ciaran Carolan of ICAO, Florian Forster of IOM, R Rajeshkumar of Auctorizium and ISO project editor for the digital travel credentials (DTC) specification, Jeremy Springall of SITA, Louise Cole of IATA, Alan Gelb of the Center for Global Development, and Dr Edgar Whitley of the London School of Economics, who has contributed to the recent Ada Lovelace Institute reports related to health status credentials.
Amongst this array of organisations, the WHO explained how it is building specifications which are intended to create digital records not for crossing borders or proving health status to any third party, but to allow for continuity of care. Its working group also includes ICAO, IATA, and ISO, each of which have their own applications in mind for digital health credentials.
The working group’s first release candidate was published on 19 March, with the second release coming at the end of April, the third at the end of May, and a final initial version by end of June. From an identity perspective, the WHO specification includes an optional field for a unique identifier.
ICAO member states came to the organisation and asked for help dealing with certificates, creating demand for a health pass border-crossing application, which would probably need biometrics or some other unique identifier to authenticate the credential-holder. Unlike the WHO credential, it would also include proof of test results.
The next draft of ICAO’s proposed system, which leverages the existing PKI infrastructure for biometric passports, is due soon.
IATA noted that of the 14 countries requiring vaccine certificates, only two currently have the same requirements. Adding to that complication, airlines are responsible for making sure travellers meet the requirements of the destination but have no way to verify the validity of passenger credentials.
The current system for managing health requirements is not secure, is slow and cumbersome, and not scalable, IATA’s Cole argues. Currently, passenger volumes are just under 10% of total capacity, but many airports need a full complement of staff on hand because of COVID requirements.
The IATA Travel Pass could help by providing an ecosystem, with the app for credential storage as just one of four parts. One of those is the global registry for health requirements, a system which has been in place for 60 years to clarify for travellers and airlines what the requirements of each destination are.
Other panellists in turn described various concerns about how groups and industries have been affected by the pandemic and could be affected by the adoption of digital health passes. They also noted the importance of moving from today’s small trials to scale, global implementations, or at least regional ones, and the importance of international mobility for developing countries.
The next episodes in the ID4Africa series of Livecasts on Vaccination Certificates & Identity Management are scheduled for 29 April and 6 May and will explore innovations in the field of digital proof of health status, including national-level initiatives.