The 8,000+ responses to Gove’s domestic certification proposal were emphatically negative.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (CDL), arguably the Deputy Prime Minister, invited Telegraph readers’ thoughts on the controversy du jour, the vaccine passport or certification, the long awaited freedom pass. CDL’s syrupy invitation/sales pitch came with the usual rah-rah for the liberation vaccines will bring, but it was contradicted by the usual dread of a third wave caused by super transmissible variants imported from other countries. The intention was to garner support for a comprehensive passport not only for international travel but also for domestic events (nightclubs, sports venues, theatres, etc., all sectors that have been economically affected by the year-long lockdown). Gove referenced Israel’s success with their Green Pass in this regard.
CDL also referenced working with friends and allies on the travel aspect, he concluded the vaccine certification was inevitable for international travel and the government should lead on the rest.
The recent Conservative Government Covid-19 Response document confirms “The UK is working with other countries who have started similar (travel passport) programmes, to lead global efforts to adopt a clear international framework with standards that provide consistency for passengers and industry alike. The Government will make this a reality through ongoing work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other multilateral organisations, the UK’s presidency of the G7 this year, and by working with other international partners.”
The travel passport is not the issue. Almost everyone recognises the temporary necessity and the idea is already proven in the Philippines for meningitis and in Brazil for yellow fever. China has incorporated a vaccine passport into the WeChat app, Bahrain has the BeAware App and Denmark has the Coronapas. The EU have published plans for a Digital Green Certificate. On Thursday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that obligatory vaccinations can be seen as necessary in democratic societies. Estonia with the WHO are jointly developing a digital vaccine certificate to strengthen COVAX.
However the 8,000+ responses to Gove’s domestic certification proposal were emphatically negative, although a few did prefer the comfort of knowing that fellow participants were vaccinated. Arguments included being free to choose risks, government overreach, too much surveillance, limiting civil liberties, invasion of privacy, whatever happened to herd immunity, discriminatory against minorities, dividing society and wasn’t the vaccine the pathway to the old normal. Inconveniently for the government, University College London’s latest modelling suggests that UK will arrive at the critical herd immunity of 73.4% on 12 April, because sufficient numbers have had a vaccine or achieved natural immunity. Imperial College thought the figure was 34% at the end of March.
The domestic freedom pass is fraught with GDPR, privacy, security, scientific, medical, political and legal problems. Nevertheless, a UK trial is underway, the Mvine-iProov Covid-19 immunity and vaccination passport enable a person’s test result or vaccination status to be registered and proved without disclosing their identity, and reportedly without the need for any extensive new infrastructure. This is thought to be the frontrunner for UK’s freedom to travel internationally after 12 June, and only to “safe countries”.
But folks are suspicious the domestic pass is just for government purposes of surveillance, control and information of who is meeting who; and also for the purposes of gathering citizens’ data. The Ada Lovelace Institute recommends “minimum data collected and appropriately shared—only data required for the purposes of vaccinations should be required”. A vote has been promised in the House of Commons and a libertarian rebellion is brewing, Labour and Liberal Democrats are likely to vote against it. Awkwardly for Boris Johnson, the White House has ruled out federal Covid-19 passports for Americans, Jen Psaki said “The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential”. Margaret Harris, WHO spokeswoman, said, “WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission”, which is confusing compared to the Covid-19 response.
For the record, the privacy argument does not stack up. Tech gives us the internet and all our apps on our smartphone. Once we have a smartphone technically we no longer have absolute privacy, although most people’s lives would not interest anyone else, except for their data which is essential to the speed, efficiency and accuracy of artificial intelligence (AI). AI needs reliable and quality data to train and program models, AI is in our daily everything—from social media to surgery to warfare. The worldwide demand for metadata is massive, so much in our life collects data and we have accepted this demand for data in exchange for convenience, first with our smartphones and now many folks in UK have Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri as assistants in the home. In the C21st data is power, welcome to the Novacene.
Novacene is the title of James Lovelock and co-author Bryan Appleyard’s 2019 book. Lovelock rising 102 years is an engineer, scientist, environmentalist, futurist and creator of the Gaia principle, the earth’s holistic feedback system. Lovelock writes the Novacene is the current age of hyper-intelligence that we have just entered, where humankind lives symbiotically with AI systems. It is different but Lovelock makes it less scary than it sounds.