By Gus Warren, CEO and Co-Founder of Bindle Systems, A Public Benefit Corporation
After being shut down for over 15 months, the cruise industry is ready to set sail again. Yet one of Florida’s most important industries is at an impasse with Governor DeSantis over its ability to check the COVID-19 vaccination status of passengers and crew.
Last month, Norwegian Cruise Lines sued the state over its ban of so-called “vaccine passports,” and U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams will hear preliminary arguments in the case from both sides this Friday. NCL has warned that, if Florida’s ban were to stand, they would be forced to relocate their business in order to remain compliant with CDC guidelines. “The only way NCLH can require vaccine documentation and maximize safety, comfort, and confidence would be by eschewing operations in Florida.” “That would be a tragedy for all concerned.”
I have good news for Governor DeSantis, for the cruise lines, and for the nearly 160,000 Floridians who work in the industry: there is a technical path out of the current impasse; one that safeguards jobs and the economy, restores public confidence, and protects the health of all Americans.
For the past decade, developers around the country have been commercializing an innovative, private-by-design technology called “self-sovereign identity” or “SSI.” In short, SSI is a new way of thinking about data that allows each of us to have total control over our personal information and then choose where, when, and with whom we share that information – without ever revealing the underlying data. In the case of COVID-19, it allows individuals to prove their health status without ever divulging the underlying health information or other personal data.
With SSI, no one but the individual has access to personal data or health information. Not the places we visit. Not the government. Not even the SSI network itself. The data is stored in a personal data locker and is encrypted with military-grade encryption in such a way that only the individuals can decrypt the data. The government and Big Tech are kept entirely out of our private lives.
Sound like magic? It’s not. It’s very real. And, when combined with COVID-19 vaccine records and test results, it is a uniquely powerful way to safely get us back together again.
And importantly, SSI paves the way for a political middle ground: it is safer than the “honor system,” while also being infinitely more protective of privacy and freedom than “vaccine passports.”
Experts have also rightly raised concerns that health verification platforms could create “immunity inequality” or place additional pressure on people to be vaccinated. So it’s critical that they support the unvaccinated by allowing people to also show test results in addition to a proof of vaccination. It’s also important that the system be usable on a piece of paper, for those without smartphones or digital access.
Here’s the hard truth: if we really want our workplaces and schools humming again, our public venues at full capacity, and our cruise ships sailing at pre-pandemic levels, we need a way to prove to each other that we’re unlikely to get each other sick. But we need to do it in such a way that we don’t create a new surveillance tool for the government or large technology companies.
The politicization of health verification has done significant damage to Florida and the rest of the country. We need SSI-based, private proof-of-health systems to safely get back to normal without sacrificing the freedoms we hold so dear. Governor DeSantis and the cruise industry have an opportunity to show the country – and the world – a path forward. They should take it.