Opinion: Legality and vaccine passports

Are vaccination passports the next step in our COVID-19 battle? (Dreamstime/TNS)
Are vaccination passports the next step in our COVID-19 battle? (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

The problems, issues, complexity, and obstacles of vaccine passports do not begin or end with the law. It really is an issue of how much trust we have left in 2021 with large tech companies.

Before most football seasons, news that you might be restricted from attending a Buffalo Bills game might actually be a small mercy. But we are living in interesting times, and with the Bills as one of the early favorites to compete for Super Bowl LVI, news out of Buffalo that proof of full vaccination will be required to attend Bills home games is raising eyebrows.

Has there ever been a time in history when we have trusted technology companies less than we do today, both with our information and to do the right thing?

A vaccine passport, pure and simple, is the state working with massively powerful technology companies to determine whether you will have the documentation to fit into a certain class of people. That class of people is people who have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Aron Solomon
Aron Solomon

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Eric J. Purchase, managing partner of Erie, Pennsylvania law firm, Purchase George & Murphey, sees vaccine passports as potentially legally complex.

“While many in our area see attending a Bills game as a constitutional right, it’s not, no matter how awesome they are. However, where people will be denied participation in constitutionally-protected activities, such as attending a religious service or a public demonstration, because they refuse to obtain or present a vaccine passport, the courts are bound to strike this down.”

The problems, issues, complexity, and obstacles of vaccine passports do not begin or end with the law. It really is an issue of how much trust we have left in 2021 with large tech companies. No matter how you slice and dice the issue of vaccine passports, it is going to be from both the scientific and technological perspective that the passports are created and administered.

One baseline flaw with any vaccine passport is that not just around the world but here in the United States, not everybody has had equal access to the vaccine. So in a society that is far less than equal, we are creating another level of equality in that only certain groups will have the vaccine passport. The people who are the loudest opponents of vaccine passports feel that there may be a time when your everyday freedoms could be limited by whether or not you hold a passport. But even if this is not the case, and it’s limited only to things such as your ability to attend an NFL game, this still does add another layer of inequity to a society that often is seemingly built on the same.

Again, it is important to clearly distinguish between proof that you’ve had a vaccine, and what is being referred to as a vaccine passport. The former is absolutely necessary in that someone who has had a vaccine needs to have proof of that initial vaccine to get their second shot, if it is a vaccine that requires multiple doses. It is also believed that any of these vaccines may require a yearly booster, so proof of the date and type of your shot is an absolutely necessary medical requirement.

But we quickly enter the world of Silicon Valley and Big Tech when we talk about the passport being used for exclusive purposes. To exclude someone from attending a sporting event is not great but is at a very different level from excluding someone, potentially, from air travel because they don’t possess a valid vaccine passport. The exclusive use of vaccine passports is limited only by the imagination of the governments and companies working in concert to put together these passports.

A recent piece in Wired suggested that vaccine passports could be used to deny access to schools, jobs, and even potentially credit. China already uses a social credit system which a vaccine passport program in the United States could easily become in a practical sense. If the goal of a vaccine passport is ultimately to separate the socially responsible from the socially irresponsible, those who fail to see the possible broad application of a vaccine passport is perhaps being too charitable with the private and public entities encouraging it.

Aron Solomon is the senior digital strategist for NextLevel.com and an adjunct professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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