TESTIMONY: Digital vaccine passports pose threat to equity, civil liberties

The following is testimony submitted Sept. 2, 2021, by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii to the Honolulu City Council Committee on Transportation, Sustainability and Health.

Sept. 2, 2021
10:30 a.m.
Honolulu City Council Chamber and Videoconference

To: Committee on Transportation, Sustainability and Health
Radiant Cordero, Chair
Brandon J.C. Elefante, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Joe Kent, Executive Vice President


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on the proposed Resolution 21-194, which 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.”

We share the concerns of the American Civil Liberties Union about the privacy, security and access issues that could be caused by a digital vaccine passport.  

Furthermore, we have grave concerns about the overly pervasive mandates for vaccine passports that would split our residents into separate tiers.  At the least, 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.

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.

The ACLU argues that 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. 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. 

The efficacy of widely mandated vaccine passports is highly suspect, 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.

We urge the committee to shelve this resolution so as to preserve the safety, privacy and open access to daily life of its citizens and visitors.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

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