NHS app will be used as digital vaccine passport

Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the plans ahead of the UK’s re-entry into international tourism

The NHS app will soon also act as a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport for travelling abroad, transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed.

The MP confirmed long-standing predictions that international movement could soon be regulated by whether or not an individual has received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Shapps specified that the app that will double as a vaccine passport is set to be the standard NHS app, rather than the NHS COVID-19 contact-tracing app that is currently used for checking into venues.

"It will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show you've had a vaccine or that you've had testing," he told Sky News.

Shapps added that he is “working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognised”. 

However, digital privacy expert Attila Tomaschek has warned that while Shapps’s confirmation will likely to be “welcome news for pandemic-weary consumers itching to finally go on holiday”, the proposed vaccine passports “pose major privacy and civil liberties risks”.

Tomaschek said that there’s “a major concern that the data collected by the vaccine passport scheme may be used beyond the scope and timeline of the pandemic by the government or even other third-party agencies”.

The opinion was echoed last year by other privacy experts who warned that implementing so-called immunity passports could lead to widespread discrimination and the exploitation of data by malicious third parties.

Data security and privacy expert Zulfikar Ramzan said that, due to the sensitive nature of medical data, it “will be highly sought after by threat actors”. 

“Anyone attempting to build a data lake for immunity passports will assuredly have a giant target on their back. More so, given the tremendous pressure to put a solution in place swiftly, it is almost certain that the designers and implementers of an immunity passport solution will make significant errors,” he told IT Pro in June last year. 

“Another core issue is data governance. In that vein, one must consider who will have access to the data, how mechanisms for controlling access will be enforced, and how to mitigate the risk of this data being abused. An immunity passport system involves the creation of a larger-scale surveillance infrastructure that will collect data beyond the purposes of determining people who are potentially immune to COVID-19.

"Some people may be willing to contribute their personal data into the system to help address the current pandemic situation. However, they may not wish to have their data used for other purposes."

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