Vaccine Passports Raise Privacy Concerns

On March 26, 2021, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the impending rollout of the Excelsior Pass. The Excelsior Pass is a method of presenting digital proof of having been vaccinated against COVID-19 or of having tested negative for COVID-19.

According to the state’s website, the Excelsior Pass will be used by venues to screen the COVID-19 status of event attendees. Billed as the first “vaccine passport” in the nation, the Pass will allow users to present proof of their COVID-19 status on their smartphones or to print out scannable passes on paper. At present, the three available types of Excelsior Passes are the COVID-19 Vaccination Pass, the COVID-19 PCR Test , and the COVID-19 Antigen Test Pass. New York residents will not be required to obtain Excelsior Passes, and will remain at liberty to present proof of their COVID-19 status in other ways (including paper copies of test results and vaccination records); however, some businesses may be required by the state to obtain information on the COVID-19 status of their attendees. Large venues are already using the Excelsior Pass to screen event attendees, and the program is slated to roll out at smaller venues and events on April 2, 2021. The Excelsior Pass is free.

Concerns are being raised with the Excelsior Pass. Those concerns include the potential for data security problems, the privacy issues inherent in sharing personal health information with the state and with businesses, and the potential for a “new normal” in which New Yorkers are expected to share personal health information in order to fully participate in public events and public life. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms is monitoring developments with this program.

Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, remarked, “Somehow, our state leaders think it burdensome to require identification before I cast my ballot, but not to disclose personal health information before I attend a ballgame.”

The Biden Administration is proposing a similar idea at the federal level. That plan potentially includes utilizing a vaccine passport for the workplace as well. Full details are not expected to be unveiled for some weeks. Apparently, anticipating pushback, CNN reports, “White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday there will be no federal mandate requiring every American to obtain a vaccination credential and there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database.”

“While neither the state nor federal plans for vaccine passports presently require participation, there is still a chilling effect of requiring documentation to be able to move freely and exercise commerce in certain segments of our society. This must not become the accepted norm for a free people,” concluded McGuire.