New York launches blockchain-powered COVID-19 vaccination passport

New York launches blockchain-powered COVID-19 vaccination passport

New York has rolled out Excelsior Pass, a blockchain-powered COVID-19 vaccination passport. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the passport is available for use by residents to prove vaccination against the deadly virus as they seek entry to major stadiums, wedding receptions and other similar public gatherings.

The state partnered with tech giant IBM to develop Excelsior Pass, which Cuomo said uses “proven, secure technology to confirm an individual’s vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test through a confidential data transfer to help fast-track the reopening of theaters, stadiums and other businesses in accordance with New York State guidelines.”

Excelsior Pass has now launched, and according to the governor, major venues in the state have already pledged to use the platform. These include the Madison Square Garden which will start using it in the coming week and the Times Union Center in Abany. Beginning April 2, Excelsior Pass will extend to other smaller arts, event and entertainment venues.

“New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back COVID, and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure,” Cuomo said.

New York has become the first state to launch the platform. Prior to the launch, the state conducted two successful pilot runs in recent weeks before it expanded to a beta test in which thousands of New Yorkers participated. Excelsior Pass is available for both Android and iOS operating systems.

On the use of blockchain, the announcement stated, “Secure technologies, like blockchain and encryption, are woven throughout Excelsior Pass to help protect the data, making it verifiable and trusted.”

James Wester, research director at IDC Worldwide Blockchain Strategies said, “The Excelsior Pass will play an important role in allowing people to gather safely, which will be critical to New York’s recovery. We were proud to be part of the Excelsior Pass pilot and look forward to participating in the program.”

Despite the assurances by the governor, some New Yorkers are apprehensive, especially regarding the privacy of their data. Cuomo has pointed to the application of blockchain to reassure users that their data will be safe. However, he has left out any details about how exactly blockchain has been applied as well as how much access the state will have on the users’ data.

Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project told The Intercept, “Gov. Cuomo gave us screenshots of the user interface, but he never even published a privacy policy. We have no idea how this data can be tracked and if it’s accessible to police.”

Others like Matthew Green, an associate professor of cryptography at John Hopkins University, have questioned the need for blockchain in the platform. He stated, “There is zero reason for blockchain to be involved in this problem. Blockchain solves a very specific problem around not trusting people, and the problem with this vaccine stuff is you do trust people; you have to trust the data being entered into the blockchain is an actual trusted reflection of who’s vaccinated or not.”

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