Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, announced that New York state’s Excelsior Pass Scanner app—a smartphone program that allows businesses that have opted-in to verify a person’s vaccination against COVID-19—has been updated.
“New York was hit hard by COVID-19, and we have led bold efforts to pursue innovative solutions to reinvigorate economies,” Hochul, who took office after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped down, said in a statement on Oct. 5. “We’re expanding this solution even further with a set of standards that can be used and validated by all businesses for free, nationwide, based on shared policies and commitments New Yorkers trust.”
New York businesses participating in the Excelsior Pass program now can verify vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests for individuals who have obtained SMART Health Cards in places such as California, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Virginia. Washington state will soon set up a SMART card program.
A Microsoft executive, Lila Tretikov, praised the move in a statement issued by the New York state government, saying that it’s a “great example of what’s possible when public, private, and community organizations work together.”
Officials have said that about 5.6 million Excelsior Passes and 800,000 Excelsior Passes Plus have been issued by New York state, which has about 20 million residents.
However, vaccine passport systems—namely digital versions—have been flagged as being an invasion of privacy by some civil liberties groups, while some critics have noted that centralized systems that hold individuals’ vaccination or health data are fraught with security problems.
In late August, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned that regarding vaccine passport systems, governments and private entities “cannot let the tools used to fight for public health be subverted into systems to perpetuate inequity or as cover for unrelated, unnecessary data collection.”
The group specifically cited New York state’s Excelsior Pass as a system that contains several serious problems.
Later, a third-party organization found a “contract that New York State had with IBM, outlining a ‘phase 2′ of the passport,” said EFF. “It would have not only a significantly higher price tag ($2.5 million to $27 million), but an expansion on what Excelsior can hold, such as driver’s licenses and other health records.” The Epoch Times has contacted IBM and New York state for comment.
Furthermore, the New York state Senate never took up a House-passed measure that would protect users’ COVID-19 data earlier this year, according to the privacy group. The bill should have been approved before the Excelsior Pass was implemented, EFF argued.