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Green passes and dark inequalities: the push for COVID immunity passports

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Monday, 22 March 2021

Cryptographers and students of information security were less merry. The Ramzor app has been blighted by problems since it was launched. In the view of computer scientist Orr Dunkelman, based at Haifa University, it unnecessarily reveals information such as the date a person recovered from COVID-19 or received a vaccine. It also employs an old encryption library susceptible to security breaches. Ran Bar Zik, software columnist for Haaretz, goes so far as to call it "a catastrophe in the making," suggesting a paper vaccination form instead.

In February, the Knesset approved a law allowing the Health Ministry to provide the name, national identification number, phone number and address of any citizen who can be vaccinated but has not received a jab, to a range of authorities. These include the Education Ministry and the Welfare Ministry. At the time of its passage, Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party suggested that, "Disclosing such information is a slippery slope, and damage's people's privacy."

An uncomfortable spectre is unfolding. While paperwork certifying good health has been a feature of transport and travel – the WHO's Yellow card showing certified vaccinations for such infections as cholera, plague and typhoid being a most known example – COVID-19 green certificates are another matter. Epidemiologist Christopher Dye and sociologist Melinda C. Mills, writing in Science, remark that, "The greatest risk is that people for whom vaccination is unacceptable, untested, inaccessible, or impossible are denied access to goods and services." They consider the various instances where inequity can manifest: ethnic minorities reluctant to take the jab; a lack of data on vaccine efficacy for people at risk (pregnant women for instance); unreachable, undocumented migrants; the digital technological divide; and eligibility requirements.


In a global sense, the unvaccinated in the COVID-19 age risk becoming the great modern unwashed, derided or ignored, socially and politically excluded. The effect is analogous to depriving people of passports, alienating them from citizenship citing biomedical grounds. Dye and Mills are optimists confident that such passports can "be guided by exemplary science, appropriate technologies, and fair use for all." But as with previous categories of the invisible and the undocumented, verifiable vaccination passes loom as rigid hierarchies of compliance, surveillance and division.

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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