IGF 2021 WS #238
Vaccine Passports and Databases: Privacy vs. Public Health

Organizer 1: Karen McCabe, IEEE
Organizer 2: Kristin Little, IEEE
Organizer 3: Constance Weise, IEEE

Speaker 1: Maria Palombini, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Ben Taylor, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: JP Pollack, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Dipak Kalra, Intergovernmental Organization, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Constance Weise, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Kristin Little, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Kristin Little, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

Data governance and trust, globally and locally: What is needed to ensure that existing and future national and international data governance frameworks are effective in mandating the responsible and trustworthy use of data, with respect for privacy and other human rights?

The challenge addressed is how to evenly negotiate the protection of public health while not revoking the right to personal privacy. Through the development of global standard frameworks and responsible adoption of new applications of disruptive technologies such as distributed ledger technologies, zero knowledge proofs, and open source meta data portability, the session will provide an approach that will both satisfy policy makers accessing and verifying vaccination credentials and protect patient data privacy and security. Discussions will focus on the utilization of current published global standards such as IEEE P1752.1 and where the development of global technical and data standards are needed in this new norm of global vaccination tracking, not only for COVID-19, but for future communicable diseases.



Targets: Relating mainly to SDG 16--Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions--the proposed Roundtable seeks to discuss transparent ways to collect vaccination data while maintaining a reasonable degree of privacy for individuals (16.6). Reaching even further than that, the panel will discuss potential systems through which citizens could contribute to the public good while at the same time maintaining their privacy. Panelists and participants will discuss how the collection and use of the data could incorporate measures for accountability and transparency (16.6) and public access to information (16.10). For instance, the Roundtable will tackle the question of whether or not citizens should be able to know who is looking at their data. Putting such systems in place to collect vaccination data requires laws and policies (16.b) When you travel, will your data be used in a public database? Will privacy be built into the design of the system? Will this be supported by laws and policies? Will those be interoperable at a global scale? The Roundtable will look not only at proposed ways of tackling SDG 16, but will also examine the real limitations faced by each of the stakeholder groups, take this into account, and imagine solutions beyond what currently exists.


Must we exchange the right to travel for the right to privacy? The question of whether or not to require travelers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or any other communicable disease looms large on many nations’ agendas. This is a pressing question as legislation is currently being formed by individual countries, and national databases of who has and has not received the vaccine are under construction. It is unclear what the effects on people’s privacy will be.

On the one hand, nations need the information to help protect citizens. Requiring proof of vaccination for entry to a country is not a new idea. Over 120 countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination to guard against the international spread of the disease and to protect individual travelers who may be exposed to yellow fever infection, according to the World Health Organization. Furthermore, collecting data on vaccinations can help control the spread of disease and inform public health efforts more generally.

On the other hand, while nations need the data to help protect citizens, citizens need to be able to protect their privacy and know who is checking their data. Technologically this is possible. With the help of distributed ledger technologies in an open source format, we can protect patient privacy while still being able to contribute to the public good.

Should citizens need to exchange privacy for the public health good? It is not only an important question in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it also demands our attention for vaccine databases that may be likely developed moving forward for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C, or the next communicable public health crisis.

The Roundtable would discuss the issue from many viewpoints, including those of government, industry, and individuals. Some questions that could be explored in the Roundtable:

--While some countries do require proof of vaccination for diseases like yellow fever and hepatitis, if adopted, the requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination will affect many more people. How will we deal with the scale?
--Should citizens be able to know who is looking at their data?
--Is there a system in which citizens can contribute to the public good while maintaining their privacy?
--Are there standards that could guide an interoperable global effort?
--What are the benefits to adopting global standards? What pitfalls could we avoid by doing so? What are the potential roadblocks to broad adoption? How to overcome these?
--What kinds of data have doctors already been adding to national databases? (e.g., antibody testing)
--A patient has certain rights and verifiers on what can be shared, and the doctor and pharmacy also have certain rights on what can be shared. Both are private. How to maintain this?
--When you travel, will your data be used in a public database? Will privacy be built into the design of the system?

Expected Outcomes

The outcomes will provide further insights towards a future open source global standard for data taxonomy and verified credentials for global digital vaccine passports. In addition an article will be produced for publication within a technical or trade publication highlighting the challenges and potential solutions for the issue.

We plan to have a very interactive session with both the speakers and the participants based on Appreciative Inquiry, which is a process for facilitating positive change. We will begin by facilitating a discussion of what an ideal future outcome would look like and then work backward from there to see what needs to be in place to achieve that outcome. The discussion would consider government, industry, and individual stakeholder needs and constraints.

We will incorporate some icebreaker questions to involve onsite and offsite participants from the beginning and invite everyone to directly join the discussion. We will solicit comments via the chat function as well.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool.