COVID Status Certificates – Julian Hayes writes for The Barrister Magazine

COVID Status Certificates – Julian Hayes writes for The Barrister Magazine

BCL partner Julian Hayes’s article ‘COVID Status Certificates – A Passport to Freedom?’ has been published by The Barrister Magazine.

Here’s an extract from the article:

What are COVID status certificates and why are they under consideration?

While the plan is still under development and separate schemes have been mooted for international travel and domestic purposes, the certificates would essentially record whether someone has been vaccinated, had a recent negative COVID test, or has immunity after recovering from the virus. There would also be exemptions for those who cannot be immunised and for whom repetitive testing would be difficult. The certificates would be shown and verified on entry to participating venues and used to facilitate travel overseas. Though digital and non-digital forms would be available, the Government is believed to have been exploring various technology to automate the process, including facial recognition and QR codes. It is believed the scheme would foster public confidence, encourage a return to normality, and promote vaccine take-up. Further, if the Government does not introduce national COVID-status certification, it expects private schemes will spring up to fill the void.

A slippery slope?

Proving vaccination status for international travel is not new but COVID status certificates for domestic purposes would be a radical departure. Critics raise a myriad of ethical objections but, at the heart of many of them lies the issue of consent. Though currently envisaged as voluntary and a way of opening up business and entertainment venues, detractors of the idea fear ‘scope creep’ – that domestic COVID status certificates would quickly become the unofficial ‘entry ticket’ to everything, from employment, to accommodation and even to dating. (Vaccination status is already touted as a ‘selling point’ on some Tinder and Bumble user profiles). In essence, opponents suggest, domestic COVID status certificates would become optional in name only, tacitly expected almost everywhere, and bringing fear of and social opprobrium on those unable or unwilling to comply. Moreover, while the Government intends to exempt essential public services, public transport and essential shops from the COVID certification scheme, these are some of the most crowded and therefore riskiest environments. It is easy to see how their exemption would be vulnerable to public pressure if an outbreak was traced back to one of them. Finally, if COVID status becomes certificated, how long before there are calls for the certification of other diseases, splintering society along health lines and unleashing untold discrimination not seen since the HIV and AIDS crisis of the 1980s.


This article was published by The Barrister Magazine on 08/06/21. You can read the original version on the BCL website here, or read the clipping from The Barrister Magazine here.

Julian Hayes advises companies and individuals in the rapidly developing field of data protection, especially in the context of data breaches and law enforcement investigations, where necessary litigating to ensure that the actions of state authorities are properly constrained. A partner at BCL for three years, he has vast experience of all types of criminal inquiries, including the unlawful obtaining of data and computer misuse offences. He is well-known and highly regarded commentator on cybersecurity and privacy issues. He advises telecommunications operators on their obligations under UK investigatory powers legislation and provides practical guidance on how to handle demands placed upon them, including in establishing systems that work to ensure legal compliance and protection for the operator.

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