Vaccination certificates will soon be added to our Covid-19 response, but is the process safe from fraudulent users?
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Tuesday that the Vaccine Certificates website will likely launch in November. There would be certain high-risk contexts – such as summer festivals – where immunization mandates would be implemented. People could present digital or printed copies of their unique QR code confirming their immunization status.
But does this approach leave the possibility for people to cheat the system and use someone else’s certificate to attend potential large-scale events.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Breakfast On Wednesday, they wanted the system to be as easy to use as possible, but controls would be in place – and potentially fines – to prevent people from abusing the system.
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“There will be fines for people who try to defraud the system,” he said. “There is a good chance that you will be caught [using someone else’s certificate]. “
An accompanying audit app was under development for use in places where mandates were applied. This would allow workers to scan unique QR codes generated through the website and verify a person’s immunization status. It would probably only show a person’s name and a check mark to say whether they have been fully vaccinated.
Dr Andrew Chen, researcher at Koi Tū – Center for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland, said data presented on the app and certificate should be cross-checked with some form of legal identification like a driver’s license or a passport to help thwart fraudulent behavior.
“If this is applied, it will be quite difficult to get by with someone else’s vaccination certificate. “
But experiences abroad have shown that these additional checks do not always take place due to inconvenience.
“It will really test our culture around the port and showing ID on request.”
From a privacy standpoint, having the verification app only show a name and vaccination status was the best approach, Chen thought.
“It would be very difficult to make it more resistant to fraud because the health ministry does not have photos of people, so they cannot create ‘passport photos’. They should get pictures of people from the Home Affairs Department, but even that might not be complete. “
Looking at the data used by the certificate, Chen said their accuracy depended on the integrity of the data from the Covid Vaccination Register (CIR), maintained by the Department of Health.
Chen was “reasonably confident” that the data was as reliable as it gets.
“It might not be 100% perfect, as there are mechanisms in place for humans to enter wrong data or pay people to get vaccines on their behalf, but I predict it would be. very small scale and for the vast majority of people everything will be fine.
If you’re hoping to attend a concert or festival this summer, prepare to get the shot.
New app for privacy reasons
The ministry has created a new website for vaccine certificates, rather than grafting onto the NZ Covid Tracer app, for privacy reasons.
As Chen explained, “NZ Covid Tracer is anonymous and does not rely on being tied to your identity, so a vaccine certificate that is unique to you would compromise this design of privacy. “
The data collected by the tracker app remained on the device, only shared with the Ministry of Health, with permission, for contact tracing purposes.
On top of that, anonymity was a requirement for using Apple and Google’s exposure notification framework behind the Bluetooth tracking feature, so they weren’t allowed to add this new feature to it.
Department of Health Deputy Director General of Data and Digital Shayne Hunter explained in Tuesday’s Covid-19 update, the new My Covid Record would be linked from the NZ Covid Tracer app.
More details to work on
One question Chen raised was how people vaccinated overseas could get their data into the CIR and then have their immunization status verified.
On top of that, there were still question marks about what would happen to people vaccinated with different vaccines – like AstraZeneca or Janssen, both of which weren’t approved for use in New Zealand.
“We will need to hear more from the government on this in the coming weeks,” Chen said. Thing.
He added, via Science Media Center: “We also need to find out more about when the use of certificates might be phased out – [for example] a sufficiently high vaccination rate or a sufficiently low alert level.
Chen said the “extraordinary circumstances” of the public health crisis warrant the use of these certificates, but more details need to be released on how “extreme cases”, which would inevitably arise in the community, would be handled. after launching the certificates. at national scale.