Vaccine Passport Concerns Muted at Big Tech-Affiliated Privacy Conference

By Ken Silva
Ken Silva
Ken Silva
Ken Silva covers national security issues for The Epoch Times. His reporting background also includes cybersecurity, crime and offshore finance – including three years as a reporter in the British Virgin Islands and two years in the Cayman Islands. Contact him at ken.silva@epochtimes.us
September 28, 2021 Updated: September 28, 2021

At one of the world’s biggest privacy conferences last week, a seminar on vaccine passports opened with the question of how mandates should be implemented—skipping over the question of whether the inherently privacy-invasive requirement should become policy at all.

“This panel will explore one of the most important topics being debated today: How do we get more people vaccinated? How do we track and trace more effectively in the future to live with this virus, and how do we have more freedom with passes or passports in the future?” the PrivSec Global event’s intro statement said.

The conference’s main sponsor was the data consulting firm OneTrust. According to its website, OneTrust’s customers include eight of the world’s largest tech companies, nine of the highest-grossing law firms, three of the Big Four accounting firms, and four of the largest pharma companies—all of which would almost certainly benefit from vaccine passport mandates due to the extra data processing, IT systems, and compliance checks such systems would entail.

During the roughly hour-long talk, the speakers noted the privacy threats posed by vaccine passports, but nonetheless expressed support for mandates to combat the pandemic. For instance, Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said he was able to hack New York’s digital vaccine passport in “11 minutes,” and said he favored paper-based systems as an alternative.

Max Hadler, a policy analyst for Physicians for Human Rights, said he wouldn’t support wholesale passport mandates on the grounds that the vaccine is more available in rich countries than poor ones, but he was otherwise supportive. He said the requirements should be reevaluated when the pandemic subsides.

None of the panelists at the privacy conference were against vaccine passports altogether.

The Epoch Times sent the speakers—also including Liberties.EU senior advocacy officer Orsolya Reich and Hintze Law partner Sheila Sokolowski—emails seeking clarification on the issue. Only Cahn responded by press time.

“Speaking only for the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, I would say that paper-based vaccine registries have been a crucial public health tool for decades,” he said. “Just school and workplace registries can save lives with minimal privacy impact for MMR, flu, and tetanus inoculations, they can be an effective alternative to vaccine apps for COVID-19.”

Neither PrivSec Global nor sponsor OneTrust responded to media inquiries about why an ostensible privacy conference didn’t feature an anti-passport speaker, when so many exist. As vaccine and passport mandates spread worldwide, protests have flared in Australia, France, Canada, London, Italy, and elsewhere—contradicting suggestions made during the PrivSec conference that the issue is only politically contentious in America.

In the United States, most of the opposition has come from conservative and libertarian camps—with voices citing individual liberty, findings about natural immunity, and the fact that COVID-19 can still spread among the vaccinated.

Others have expressed opposition as well. One such person is self-described “civil libertarian” and human rights activist Ed Hasbrouck, who opposes vaccine mandates on the grounds that they necessitate identification mandates.

Analyzing a vaccine passport order (pdf) from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) earlier this month, The Identity Project’s (IDP) Hasbrouck said details in that mandate should alarm everyone, regardless of their opinions on vaccines or vaccine mandates.

Writing for the California-based IDP, Hasbrouck said the most concerning aspect of the SFDPH mandate is the requirement for covered businesses to cross-check proof of full vaccination of their customers against a photo identification—unless the photo ID is integrated into a digital vaccine passport.

Hasbrouck said this requirement will harm the undocumented—a wide group that ranges from immigrants to so-called sovereign citizens, to those who simply don’t want to carry identification.

“The effect of the ID mandate is that undocumented people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by the SFDPH at its vaccination sites are prohibited by the SFDPH, purportedly on the basis of their vaccination status, from patronizing or working in restaurants or other covered venues,” he said. “There is no rational relationship between the ID provisions of the order and any health purpose.”

Hasbrouck said unlike certain other, relatively decentralized, vaccination schemes—such as for travel and education—his concern for the current proposals is that their design will pool vast troves of personal data for corporate and government use.

While declining to comment about the conference or specific participating sponsors, Hasbrouck said the access to data is why corporations and governments are moving lockstep on the issue.

“[Businesses] get to piggyback on this data for their own commercial purposes, and the reason I can say this with great confidence is that this is exactly what has happened over the last 20 years with airline passengers,” he said.

“A key problem is the malign convergence of interest between governments that want to track travelers for surveillance and control, and businesses that want to piggyback on the same systems and data for their own commercial purposes,” Hasbrouck told The Epoch Times.

“The worst-case scenario for this today is the pervasive facial recognition biometric tracking in China, but the United States and other countries seem to be headed in that direction.”

Ken Silva
Ken Silva covers national security issues for The Epoch Times. His reporting background also includes cybersecurity, crime and offshore finance – including three years as a reporter in the British Virgin Islands and two years in the Cayman Islands. Contact him at ken.silva@epochtimes.us