16 Sep 2021
The trust equation – why RedR Australia and the Trust Alliance are calling for secure and fair vaccine passes

The privacy and security of Australians and their data must be prioritised in plans as we begin to reopen borders and enjoy new freedoms while seeking to manage the spread of COVID-19.

Following reports the Australian Government will trial digital border passes that capture an individual’s vaccine status to enable international travel, RedR Australia has joined calls to ensure any such systems are secure, trustworthy and fair to all sections of the community. 

RedR Australia is a founding member of the Trust Alliance which is creating digital credentials that enable organisations to mobilise humanitarian workers and volunteers rapidly and safely in times of crisis. This work focuses on creating trust standards that are open, inclusive, and equitable for all. 

In a joint statement released this week, the Alliance members commended efforts to reopen borders while urging that any identity systems employed as part of the roadmap to pandemic recovery must "ensure a safe, trustworthy and dignified experience for all Australians". 

The statement advised that such systems should be designed with three key service principles at their core: 

  • Safety: the design should be guided by considerations of doing no harm.
  • Interoperability: across governments and industry to reduce confusion and access barriers for individuals.
  • Self-sovereignty: to give people the ability to keep data about themselves and encourage them to share only the information they need to share.

Balancing public health and human rights

There are currently no laws or public health orders that make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory in Australia. But, many countries including Austria, France, Germany and Israel have introduced vaccine passes as a condition of travel, entry to buildings or events, or to access goods and services.

As the Australian Government considers similar measures here, it is critical that community health considerations are balanced against human rights principles. The Australian Human Rights Commission says any measures implemented to enhance public health must:

  • be reasonable, necessary, and proportionate.
  • take into account the potential for discrimination.

Until all Australians are able to be vaccinated, any vaccine pass system must account for those who do not have access to, or cannot receive, a vaccine.

This includes children who are currently ineligible for the vaccine, as well as people with valid medical reasons for not getting vaccinated, including those with disability. Some communities, particularly those in rural and remote settings, face long waits or vast travel distances to access vaccinations. Australians living overseas who cannot access vaccines must also be considered.

Any blanket vaccine pass system must avoid discriminating against these people, particularly when accessing essential goods and services.

A solution that can be trusted

RedR Australia Board Member and University of New South Wales Institute for Cyber Security Director, Nigel Phair said the key to an equitable system lies in transparency and communication. "Consumers need to be taken on the journey, have the risks and benefits explained to them. Then to make the vaccine pass both digitally and ethically viable, they need to be involved in creating and testing the technology. But to do this, we must allow them to make an informed choice,"

A technological solution that facilitates opening up make sense. Australians naturally trust and use many services via their phones, including banking, shopping and social media. 

These kinds of services deliver a trust equation, where data collection is proportionate, safe and aligned with privacy laws.

With QR check-in systems already in place across the country, any additional systems and tools must utilise privacy-preserving identity technology that is focused on authentication, rather than identification.  

And while Australia has high saturation of smart phones, not everyone has access to a smart device to store their vaccine status. There must also be an alternative option developed by and for these people.

Mr Phair added, "We don’t need to verify who a person is, nor their particular attributes. We only need to authenticate that the person has been vaccinated to a certain level and is authorised to do something, such as travel. Consumers should also be able to see who has access to what and when."

Read the full statement from the Trust Alliance.