Covid-19: Canada’s privacy commissioners express concern over vaccine passports

On May 12, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that Canada was among the countries considering such Covid-19 immunity certification, particularly for international travel
A file photo of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Canada. (REUTERS)
A file photo of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Canada. (REUTERS)
Published on May 20, 2021 11:57 AM IST
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Canada’s federal privacy commissioner along with his peers across all provinces of the country have voiced concerns over the possible introduction of so-called “vaccine passports”, arguing that they may encroach upon civil liberties.

Vaccine passports are travel passes that are being considered by several countries in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The proposed system involves allowing only those people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel and attend public gatherings such as music concerts and sports events.

On May 12, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that Canada was among the countries considering such immunity certification, particularly for international travel.

But despite being open to considering vaccine passports, Trudeau himself had cautioned against the possibility of the proposed passes becoming discriminatory. “The idea of certificates of vaccination for domestic use does bring in questions of equity. There are questions of fairness and justice. There could be discrimination,” the Canadian PM had said.

A statement issued jointly by privacy commissioners and ombuds across Canada, however, cautioned, “While this may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration.”

They said that while vaccine passports would allow people to travel and attend public gatherings, also supporting economic recovery while protecting public health, the system would require individuals to disclose personal health information about their vaccination status “in exchange, potentially, for access to goods and services, for example, restaurants, sporting events and airline travel”.

“Vaccine passports must be developed and implemented in compliance with applicable privacy laws,” the statement said. “They should also incorporate best practices in order to achieve the highest level of privacy protection commensurate with the sensitivity of the personal health information that will be collected, used or disclosed.”

The privacy commissioners also said that whether introduced by governments or by private organisations, the proposed certificates, whether digital or in paper, need to have “clear legal authority”.

They were also categorical that vaccine passports should “not be used for any purpose other than Covid-19”. The statement also noted that personal health information collected for this purpose “should be destroyed and vaccine passports decommissioned when the pandemic is declared over by public health officials or when vaccine passports are determined not to be a necessary, effective or proportionate response to address their public health purposes”.

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