Liberty’s view on immunity passports

Posted on 09 Feb 2021

Immunity passports would be an over-reach on our rights, while simultaneously failing to protect everyone or get us out of this pandemic.

We all want to get out of this pandemic as soon as possible – but this must not be at the expense of our rights or freedoms, or by pushing the most marginalised into an even more precarious position.

That’s why we should all be worried about growing talk of introducing immunity or vaccine passports we have seen in the past few months.

Liberty has always supported proportionate action to protect public health – but immunity passports would be an over-reach on our rights, while simultaneously failing to protect everyone or get us out of this pandemic.

These so-called passports claim they would ensure those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can start to return to normal life. Which raises the question – what happens to everyone else?

Countless suggestions for immunity passports have circulated. Some suggest their use would be limited to international travel – others are less specific. Meanwhile a variety of technologies have been floated, from QR codes to apps or even physical cards.

One thing every suggestion has missed is that it’s impossible to have immunity passports which do not result in human rights abuses.

We should all be able to live our lives free from unnecessary interference – any form of immunity passport would rob us of that. And history tells us that once we give up these hard-won rights, we rarely get them back.

Even the introduction of a voluntary passport to prove if you’ve had a vaccine could result in many being blocked from essential public services, work or housing. Meanwhile once these passports have been created for one purpose – like travel – it would be all too easy for their use to be extended and abused.

This would result in a two-tier system in which some people can access freedoms and support while others are shut out – with the most marginalised among us hardest hit.

This has wider implications, too. Any form of immunity passport could pave the way for a full ID system – an idea which has repeatedly been rejected as incompatible with building a rights-respecting society.

The Government has so far done little to allay concerns and has instead sent mixed messages about immunity passports. Ministers have denied them in one breath while their colleagues confirmed support with the next.

What’s more, the public have good reason not to trust those in power with large-scale digital projects involving access to our personal data.

We have seen countless data mess-ups over the course of the pandemic. Figures recording coronavirus cases have been lost, police records have been wiped, and apologies for data-breaches have been issued to various groups.

What’s telling is that in all conversations about immunity passports, little attention is paid to privacy protection or data access. In looking for a way out of lockdown, people are not giving serious consideration to how immunity passports would jeopardise our freedom in the long-term.

To get through coronavirus, we need to pull together and demand a response that protects us all. That means rejecting strategies like immunity passports which are based on exclusion and division.

Instead, we must work to bridge divides with strategies that protect everyone.

That’s why we are calling on politicians from across the Houses of Parliament to reject immunity passports once and for all, and to only consider strategies that protect everyone and that keep our hard won rights and freedoms intact.

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