Digital Covid passport ‘will rely on people trusting it’, says ICO

Speaking at the Data Protection Practitioners’ Conference 2021, Elizabeth Denham will say that “the success of any Covid-status scheme will rely on people trusting it” and in particular the way in which is handles their data.

Last month, it emerged that the existing NHS app will be need to be used by holidaymakers this coming summer to display evidence that they have been vaccinated or tested for coronavirus.

The European Commission has also announced plans to roll out coronavirus vaccine certificates (“Digital Green Certificates”) across the EU to allowing continental travel. The certificates will confirm that the user has had a vaccination, received a negative test result or recovered from infection.

But Denham is set to say: “There is simply not an option today for any organisation, private or public sector, to say ‘how we use data is complex, this service is important, so just trust us’. And that applies as much to Covid-status certificates as it does to social media companies or app developers.”

Even prior to the introduction of the UK’s Covid-19 tracking app last summer, privacy advocates were voicing concern over its possible impacts.

Amnesty International even went so far as to warn that the app risks opening the door to “pervasive state surveillance and privacy infringement”.

In her speech Denham acknowledged a “growing cynicism” from the general public about the ways in which large firms use their data.

“A cynicism from customers who feel their information is being misused or monetised without their say. A mistrust of government innovations around data,” she added.

“That is a real concern. The obvious benefits of data-driven innovation, in both the public and private sectors, rely on trust.”