By Gus Warren, Co-Founder and CEO
The CDC’s recent announcement that vaccinated people can shed their masks has left many Americans confused. And dubious.
A recent Axios/Ipsos poll shows that around 75% of respondents mistrusted maskless strangers on their vaccination status — especially in airports, outdoor music and sports events, and in restaurants.
Without shared trust, it’s hard to imagine a full recovery from the pandemic. To reopen safely, we need a way to confirm that everyone in crowded places is unlikely to be infectious. That means proving to one another that we’ve recently tested negative for COVID-19 or have been vaccinated.
Understandably, many Americans are concerned about vaccine passports. Government surveillance and the aggregation of personal information by Big Tech worries people in both red and blue states. “Show me your papers!” is not the American way.
So how can we prove to one another that we’re not infectious — while respecting freedom and privacy? Thankfully, the technologies to support this exist right now. They’re called self-sovereign identity (SSI) systems. SSI-based technologies are premised on the foundational principle that individuals are the sole owners of their identity and personal data — not the tech companies that transmit this data.
Innovations in self-sovereign identity, including the health wallet my company Bindle Systems has created, can help America reopen safely, fairly, and fully. Using SSI, we can verify our COVID-19 health status to one another — all while never sharing our identity or personal health data.
Without trust, Main Street will struggle to reopen fully. Users need to know that they are the sole owners of their personal health information. And that they have the ability to share their health status with one another anonymously.
But to really build trust, we need security, too. People should have the right to prove their health status in a way that is totally secure. This can be achieved through decentralization and encryption, where data is not stored in a centralized database. Big, aggregated collections of personal data are tempting targets for hackers and marketers alike. Our COVID credentials are the last thing we’d want exploited.
Of course, any new proof-of-health technology also must incorporate equity into its foundation. America can’t reopen fully if it doesn’t reopen fairly. That means deploying systems that are designed for the reality that some people cannot — or will not — get vaccinated. Being able to securely and anonymously prove that you’ve recently tested negative for COVID-19 should be included in the solution — not just a proof of vaccination. And we cannot have a system built on smartphones alone. That’s why Bindle works on paper too.
Times of crisis require bold action. It will take all of us to get out of this mess. But we’ve got to protect public health while respecting fundamental civil liberties. We don’t have to sacrifice privacy to be safe.