Michael Gove is visiting Israel to study their Green Pass vaccination passport program, with reports suggesting he’s been a “big fan” of the initiative for several weeks now.
The trip follows a Sunday Telegraph article he wrote earlier this month, in which he posed the question: “If Israel can speed up the return of its citizens to nightclubs, football stadiums? and theaters with these certificates, could we? ”
His apparent enthusiasm to learn from Israel’s “success” is somewhat disturbing, given that the Green Pass was marred by significant problems from day one.
The myriad of issues that have arisen since the start of the program strongly suggests that this is not a good roadmap for the UK to use for its own vaccine passport program.
Like the nature of vaccine passports, many of these concerns relate to privacy. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in March that messages sent through the app’s contact page – which often included personal information – were redirected to a private Gmail account of a health ministry official. Information about this email account was available online due to leaks from other apps.
Security experts have also pointed out that the Green Pass uses a library of crypto programs that has not been properly maintained and updated for years.
The Israeli government has come under closer scrutiny for not making the app open source, which means no one can easily verify whether their concerns are valid.
The NHS, on the other hand, released the source code for the covid app in May 2020. But there is no guarantee, if the UK government is indeed considering treating Israel as a master plan, that the source code a passport application for vaccines would also be made available.
To compound privacy concerns, shortly after the rollout of the Green Pass program, the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – passed a law allowing local authorities to compile data on citizens who have refused to be vaccinated. This includes names, ID numbers, addresses, and even phone numbers.
Amid a pandemic that has seen even the most liberal democracies institute draconian surveillance laws, the question of whether similar legislation would follow the rollout of a vaccine passport in countries like the UK is worrying.
Additional security concerns persist beyond the realm of privacy. Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point has previously shown that the Israeli vaccine certificate, which uses a simple QR code for verification, can be easily tampered with using Photoshop. By mid-February, more than 100,000 people had joined groups on the Telegram app that offered fakes.
There are a plethora of other ethical issues with any iteration of a vaccine passport, along with different answers. The Israeli government, for example, does not seem concerned that a two-tier society may emerge as a byproduct of its position: “Anyone who does not get vaccinated will be left behind,” the minister said. Health Yuli Edelstein in February.
Not everyone can get the vaccine; and what about people coming to Britain from countries with slower vaccine rollouts? Will they be vaccinated upon arrival or will they just have to live their lives in Britain denying them access to public spaces and places – at least temporarily?
I hope these considerations will be taken into account and, if vaccine passports get the green light in the UK, a tough position like Israel’s will be fought. Israel is struggling to deploy an app to a population more than seven times smaller than the UK and which has more tech start-ups per capita than anywhere else in the world, in tandem with the UK government’s abject failure to create an application for tracing employment contracts last summer does not paint a very promising picture.
What makes Michael Gove and the UK government so keen to explore the ins and outs of this flawed program? If, as he claims in his Telegraph article, “data privacy and security must be tight,” what part of the Green Pass program will even be replicable?
In addition to these technical issues, it is appalling to see the UK government eager to follow the lead of a nation that dragged its feet on the advice of UN human rights experts who pleaded with Israel. to carry out its duty as an occupying power, defined in law, to immunize the Palestinian population of Gaza and the West Bank (where they vaccinated Israeli settlers).
Israel has finally agreed to provide vaccines to those living in these territories in early March, but only to the more than 100,000 Palestinians who travel to Israel for work. The second round of doses is expected to be completed by the end of April. They also said they would transfer a small number of doses to the entire Palestinian population in January.
It is disturbing to see a minister touting both the speed of Israel’s vaccine rollout and, in turn, its ability to launch a successful vaccine passport program without mentioning these uncomfortable disparities, especially since the country would be so big. later in those two efforts if they had listened to the UN.
Hopefully Gove’s trip to Israel will be more exploratory than informative, and it will become clear that their Green Pass is not quite the golden ticket he was billed like in most Western media.