So I attended the ID4Africa webcast that discussed vaccination certificates, including its discussion of harmonization of the myriad of certificates—a topic that clearly interests me.
If you didn’t already hear this on my recent podcast (microcast?) episode, Pavlina Navratilova of IDEMIA discussed three vaccination certificate standards that affect Europeans. One of these is the Digital Green Certificate, also known as the EU Green Pass.
In this post I’ll explain what the Digital Green Certificate is, why some people think it is essential to the continuance of civilization, and why some people think it destroys civilization as we know it.
Or something like that.
What is the Digital Green Certificate?
First, a clarification. The word “green” in Digital Green Certificate does not refer to saving the whales. It refers to “green means go” in terms of COVID-19. Specifically, a Digital Green Certificate is a digital proof that a person has either
|been vaccinated against COVID-19|
|received a negative test result or|
|recovered from COVID-19|
The certificate will also be available in paper format for us old-school types, but the digital version is what interests me.
The certificate will not be issued by the EU itself, but by entities within each EU country such as health authorities or individual hospitals. The certificate will be in a person’s national language and in English (for those who have forgotten, English is no longer a national language within the European Union due to Brexit).
Each certificate will contain a QR code to ensure authenticity, and these QR codes will be tracked at the EU level.
Each issuing body (e.g. a hospital, a test centre, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.
The European Commission will build a gateway. Through this gateway, all certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. The personal data encoded in the certificate does not pass through the gateway, as this is not necessary to verify the digital signature. The Commission will also help Member States to develop a software that authorities can use to check the QR codes.
The idea is that any EU citizen can provide national proof of vaccination, negative test, or recovery from COVID and that this national proof will be accepted in any other EU country, subject to the specific rules of that country.
On the other hand, the EU does not want to restrict freedom of movement within the EU.
The Digital Green Certificate should facilitate free movement inside the EU. It will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU.
For more details on the plans for the Digital Green Certificate, see this European Commission page. Work continues to get the Digital Green Certificate up and running, including approval of technical specifications.
Entities supporting the Digital Green Certificate
Like anything COVID-related, there are entities that support the Digital Green Certificate, and entities that oppose it.
One group of entities that supports the Digital Green Certificate is the European airline industry. Because of the adverse economic effects of COVID travel restrictions, the airline industry not only wants Digital Green Certificates, but it wants them in time for the summer travel season. Here’s an excerpt from a statement from Airlines for Europe (A4E):
A4E welcomed today’s decision by the European Parliament to fast-track the European Commission’s Digital Green Certificates proposal using an Urgent Procedure. A positive decision by the European Council later today would set in motion a vote on the certificates by the end of April, facilitating the European Commission’s plan to have the certificates operational by June….
“With vaccination programmes underway, I am even more confident travel will be possible this summer. Airlines are ready to re-connect Europe and support economic recovery. I look forward to working with A4E members and policy leaders on this critical work ahead”, (A4E Chairman John) Lundgren added.
The “get people on flights” message is loud and clear.
And it’s not just the airlines; this initiative is also supported by the World Travel and Tourism Council and European Travel Commission. And the European Tourism Manifesto. And the European Exhibition Industry Alliance.
And (most importantly!) the general concept is supported by Vince, who though he is no longer in the EU (did I mention Brexit?), wrote this back in April:
#vaccinationcertificates The reason we need mandatory #vaccinationcards is because of the #superspreaders who demonstrated yesterday. Banning them from #pubs#football.#holidays#events etc will force #covididiots to adhere to the rules or stay at home. @LBC
And then there is the view of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). They support the idea, but with some qualifications:
Andrea Jelinek, Chair of the EDPB, said: “A Digital Green Certificate that is accepted in all Member States can be a major step forward in re-starting travel across the EU. Any measure adopted at national or EU level that involves processing of personal data must respect the general principles of effectiveness, necessity and proportionality. Therefore, the EDPB and the EDPS recommend that any further use of the Digital Green Certificate by the Member States must have an appropriate legal basis in the Member States and all the necessary safeguards must be in place.”
Wojciech Wiewiórowski, EDPS, said: It must be made clear that the Proposal does not allow for – and must not lead to – the creation of any sort of central database of personal data at EU level. In addition, it must be ensured that personal data is not processed any longer than what is strictly necessary and that access to and use of this data is not permitted once the pandemic has ended. I have always stressed that measures taken in the fight against COVID-19 are temporary and it is our duty to ensure that they are not here to stay after the crisis.”
This raises an interesting point that was also raised (after I left) in the ID4Africa webinar: what will happen to the Digital Green Certificate in the long term? The attendees were polled on this question.
Obviously the EDPB and EDPS prefer option 3, in which the Digital Green Certificate disappears once the pandemic is over.
Entities opposing the Digital Green Certificate
But not everyone believes that the Digital Green Certificate is a wonderful thing. Take the attitude of the the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM), as expressed in a liberties.eu post.
As NJCM explains in a letter to the European Parliament, the EU has set up a system and infrastructure for Green Certificates, but only partially regulates the use of these Green Certificates. This leaves it up to member states to make their use mandatory, or to use Green Certificates in many more areas than just border control. Such mandatory use of Green Certificates may limit the freedom of movement, the right to not be discriminated against, the right to privacy, the right to data protection and, indirectly, the right to the integrity of the person (since the ability to travel is made conditional on undergoing testing or vaccination).
While the UK is (as I may have previously mentioned) outside of the EU, that country’s National Museum Directors’ Council has weighed in on the concept of vaccination certificates in general. Unlike airlines that believe that such certificates will encourage travel, the museum directors think these certificates will actually restrain it.
In the UK, where a government consultation on vaccine passports has proved controversial, a coalition of leading museum directors has spoken out against their potential use in museums. Such a scheme “sits at odds with the public mission and values of museums”, the National Museum Directors’ Council said, warning that it would constitute “an inappropriate form of exclusion and discrimination”.
And, to be truthful, the existence of any type of vaccine certificate allows a distinction between those who are (believed to be) COVID-free and those who are not. You can use the emotionally-charged word “discrimination” or the less-charged “distinction,” but either way you’re dividing people into two groups.
The only way to remove such a distinction is to automatically assume that everyone has COVID. That could close the museums…
…but at least everyone will be treated equally without discrimination. So that’s a good thing…I guess…