Honolulu Council urged to shelve digital vaccine passports resolution

Photo by Charley Myers

The following news release was issued Sept. 2, 2021, by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

The Honolulu City Council is considering a resolution that would urge digital vaccine passports for “higher risk” establishments statewide


HONOLULU, Sept. 2, 2021 >> A resolution being considered today at Honolulu Hale poses a threat to the privacy, security, access and civil liberties of all Hawaii residents, according to testimony submitted today by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Being heard by the City Council’s Committee on Transportation, Sustainability and Health, the proposed Resolution 21-194 would urge the city administration and the state of Hawaii to implement a digital COVID-19 passport for “establishments at higher risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

In comments submitted to the committee,Joe Kent, institute executive vice president, said the institute shares the concerns of the American Civil Liberties Union about the privacy, security and access issues that could be caused by a digital vaccine passport, and has “grave concerns about the overly pervasive mandates for vaccine passports that would split our residents into separate tiers.

“At the least,” Kent said, “those would include individuals who have been vaccinated, those who have religious or medical exemptions from the mandate, those who simply have not been vaccinated, and possibly those who have been vaccinated overseas with vaccines not recognized in the U.S.”

Kent noted that in the view of the ACLU, if vaccine passports are to be used at all, they should be primarily paper-based, for three reasons:

>> An exclusively digital system would increase inequality for individuals with less access to digital technology, such as people who are homeless, low-income, have disabilities or are elderly.

>> Centralized digital systems are not good for transparency, privacy and user control, and a trustworthy decentralized digital system, such as with blockchain technology, would be difficult to create.

>> Digital systems are ripe for inappropriately sharing or leaking user data, such as to a big company seeking to track user movements from one establishment to the next.

Kent said that, according to the ACLU, these issues could deter individuals from getting the vaccine, and that any passport system could shut out individuals unable to take the vaccine because of certain medical conditions or access.

“It also could shut out individuals who have already taken a COVID-19 vaccine widely available overseas that is not recognized in the U.S.,” Kent said. “These fully vaccinated persons would question whether they should also take a vaccine recognized in the U.S., and whether that is even medically necessary or advisable.”

All things considered, “The efficacy of widely mandated vaccine passports is highly suspect,” Kent said, “and a digital passport brings up significant equity and civil liberty issues. The New York measure upon which this Honolulu resolution is based is already being challenged in court and has been criticized for its intrusions.”

Kent urged the committee to shelve the resolution “so as to preserve the safety, privacy and open access to daily life of its citizens and visitors.”

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