A digital health passport called health travel pass under testing in the Netherlands is pushing the boundaries of data privacy, identity authentication and COVID-testing certification.

Since the stepping up of cross-border vigilance to detect the health status of travelers allowed to leave their countries, fake health certificates have become a big issue. With the start of vaccination programs worldwide, the problem of fake certifications has been on the rise, according to identity authentication specialist IDEMIA.

Other issues plaguing the implementation of digital certifications that confirm travelers’ health status include standardized acceptance among countries and regions; data privacy levels, unconfirmed vaccine efficacy outcomes, and bioethical concerns amid vaccine diplomacy and vaccine nationalism.

In an attempt to help smoothen out the interim period where disparate countries balance the risks and benefits of border control protocols, IDEMIA has launched its Health Travel Pass that is based on ICAO1 standards for travel-related public health evidence—‘Visible Digital Seals’ (VDS-NC).

The proposed travel pass is claimed to be a “trusted worldwide interoperable solution” that can be rapidly rolled out and adapted to each country’s needs, while complying with international health certificate standards, including PCR test results, immunity tests and vaccination certificates.

The firm notes that the proposed Health travel pass is linked to a traveler’s identity and cannot be transferred to anyone else and cannot be copied without appropriate authority. It can also be incorporated into the Digital Travel Credential scheme tested by some countries in conjunction with the ICAO

How it will work

Passengers involved in the program will receive their health certificate stamped with the ICAO’s Visible Digital Seal that guarantees worldwide interoperability with secure encoding using data encryption.

The Health travel pass is expected to ensure all travelers are covered, and it is available in various forms: from a downloadable government-issued health app, to a PDF document sent by email, to a sticker to affix to passport pages.  

Before check-in, border control or boarding, a biometric match is triggered between the passenger’s face and their passport photo, and the health certificate is verified. This quick process for both travelers and security staff guarantees convenience and cuts airport congestion in future when international air travel returns to normal. 

In keeping with data privacy by design, the Health Travel Pass complies with current data privacy regulations. As such, passengers “keep total control over their own health data”.

Readers eager to travel are advised to use their discretion in keeping abreast of international developments regarding emerging pandemic and vaccine-related data that affect overarching border control policies.