Vaccine passports are violations of personal privacy

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Jernej Furman | Flickr

Dani Heba

New York rolled out its attempt at a vaccine passport called the Excelsior Pass, but it is a blatantly authoritarian move.

The Excelsior Pass allows people to document their COVID-19 vaccination status or a recent negative test for COVID-19. In exchange, people will receive permission to be allowed into social gatherings such as sporting events, art performances, airplanes and just about any other venue one could imagine.

However, such a pass like this one, developed and rolled out on behalf of the government, is an incredible violation of peoples’ privacy rights.

The COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly new and though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the vaccines are safe and effective, the government cannot ignore the people’s right to deny such a new vaccine. Nobody is sure of the vaccines’ long-term effects, as they have existed for only a year, if even that long.

Public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine is not exceptionally high, though there are many who are confident that the vaccines are safe and effective. According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, about 60% of Americans intend to get a vaccine when eligible.

With plenty of conspiracies already afloat about the vaccinations, such as those that claim that Microsoft founder Bill Gates might be implementing a microchip to track people, a government push to vaccinate people by threatening them with exclusion from social gatherings is sure to fuel these conspiracies and lower confidence even further.

If the government restricts the people’s rights to privacy by mandating a vaccine passport, many will suspect authoritarianism to be the aftermath of the pandemic.

The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from an overreaching government. In particular, the Fourth Amendment was written to protect the people’s privacy from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

A vaccine passport required by the government unreasonably intrudes into people’s lives by requiring them to upload personal documents in exchange for their natural rights to gather with other people freely.

The American Civil Liberties Union published a blog post on March 31 arguing that there’s “a lot” that can go wrong with vaccine passports.

“But given the enormous difficulty of creating a digital passport system, and the compromises and failures that are likely to happen along the way, we are wary about the side effects and long-term consequences it could have,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a strong rebuke of vaccine passports on April 2, signing an executive order prohibiting government agencies and private businesses in Florida from requiring a vaccine passport.

“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” DeSantis said at a news conference, as reported by The New York Times.

However, The New York Times does note that DeSantis’s order could face legal challenges, including under the precedent of Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, where the high court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws.

Additionally, private businesses’ rights to require proof of vaccination could also challenge DeSantis’s order.

Proponents of a vaccine passport argue that it is the safest way to reopen society. Disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the state’s Excelsior Pass “thoughtful” and “science-based” in his 2021 State of the State Address.

“As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening,” Cuomo said.

However, vaccine passports are not necessary for safety.

Scientists and doctors, including Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, have repeatedly said that herd immunity is attainable when 70% to 85% of the population is immune to the virus. If this is true, the country wouldn’t need a vaccine passport as it approaches this target.

Not only would a vaccine passport to engage in daily activity be an incredible violation of privacy, but it would also be useless.