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COVID-Tech: the sinister consequences of immunity passports       printable version
10 Jun 2020: posted by the editor - Features, Health, Human Rights, Technology, International

By EDRi.org
In EDRi’s series on COVID-19, COVIDTech, we explore the critical principles for protecting fundamental rights while curtailing the spread of the virus, as outlined in the EDRi network’s statement on the pandemic. Each post in this series tackles a specific issue at the intersection of digital rights and the global pandemic in order to explore broader questions about how to protect fundamental rights in a time of crisis.

In our statement, we emphasised the principle that states must “defend freedom of expression and information”. In this fourth post of the series, we take a look at the issue of immunity passports, their technological appeal and their potentially sinister consequences on social inequality and fundamental rights The dangerous allure of science fiction Early in the coronavirus outbreak, pandemic guilty-pleasure film, Contagion, skyrocketed to the top of streaming sites’ most watched lists. One of the film’s most interesting plot points (mild spoiler alert) is the suggestion of a simple form of immunity passport.

Wristbands for people who have been vaccinated are presented as an obvious solution – and why wouldn’t they be? Various forms of immunity passport are a compelling idea. It sounds as if they could allow us to get back to a more normal life. But the reality is not as clear-cut as in the movies, and the threats to how we live our lives – in particular, the people that could be most harmed by such schemes – mean that we must be incredibly cautious. Consequently, as it stands now, the lack of evidence, combined with the size of the threat that these schemes pose to fundamental rights and freedoms, reveal that - digital or otherwise - immunity passports must not be rolled out.

Immunity passports – science fact says “no” In the last few weeks, “digital immunity passports”, certificates, apps, and other similar ideas have become prominent in discussions about how to exit from global lockdowns, with proposals popping up in Germany, Italy, Colombia, Argentina and the US to name a few. It is a legitimate policy goal to help people find safe ways to exist in this “new normal.”

Yet these proposals are all founded on the dangerous fallacy that we know and understand what coronavirus “immunity” looks like.

The WHO have been clear in their assessment that there is “currently no evidence” for immunity, and that such schemes may in fact incentivise risky behaviour. Medical journal The Lancet adds that such proposals are “impractical, but also pose considerable equitable and legal concerns even if such limitations are rectified.” And science journal Nature warns that immunity passports can actually harm public health. If public health experts are warning against immunity passports – even once we know more about COVID-19 immunity - then why are governments and private actors still pushing them as a silver bullet? Like with controversial tracking and contact tracing apps, there are a host of privacy and data protection concerns when such schemes become “digital”. Individual health data is very sensitive, as is data about our locations and interactions. As it is often with private companies that are aggressively pushing proposals (hello TransferWise and Bolt in Estonia), there are serious concerns about transparency, accountability, and who really benefits. EDRi has warned that public health tools should be open for public scrutiny, and limited in scope, purpose and time.

With private companies rushing to profit from this crisis, can we be confident that this will happen? The lessons learned from digital identification programmes suggests we have reasons to be very sceptical.

A new generation of “haves” and “have nots” The crux of the problem with immunity passports is that they will likely be used to decide who is and who is not allowed to participate in public life: who can go to work – and therefore earn money to support themselves and their family; who can go to school; and even who can stay in hotels. By essence, these “passports” could decide who can and who cannot exercise their fundamental rights.

As both Privacy International (PI) and Access Now explain, the law tells us that any restrictions on people’s rights must be really well justified, meeting high levels of necessity and proportionality, and must also have a clear legal basis. These criteria mean that measures that limit people’s rights must be demonstrably effective, have no viable alternative, not violate the essence of fundamental rights and have clear safeguards. This is a very high set of criteria that need to be met. In the context of an absence of scientific proof, significant risks created by false positives and false negatives and big concerns about data protection and privacy, the idea of digital immunity passports becomes even more sinister. This hasn’t stopped tech companies like Onfido lobbying their national health services or governments to adopt their services for biometric immunity passports.

Biometric surveillance and the risks of hyper-connected data In a wider sense, digital immunity passports – especially those linked to people’s sensitive biometric data – are part of a growing mass surveillance infrastructure which can watch, analyse and control people across time and place. Such systems rely on holding mass databases on people (which in itself comes with big risks of hacking and unauthorised sharing) and are damaging to the very core of people’s rights to dignity, privacy and bodily integrity. The combining of health data with biometric data further increases the ability of states and private actors to build up highly detailed, intrusive and intimate records of people. This can, in turn, have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and assembly by disincentivising people from joining protests, suppressing political opposition, and putting human rights defenders and journalists at risk. As Panoptykon Foundation have explained, such systems are ripe for abuse by governments looking to control people’s freedoms.

Discrimination and unequal impacts creating a segregated society It is foreseeable that the introduction of immunity passports will have unequal and disproportionate impacts upon those that already face the highest levels of poverty, exclusion and discrimination in society.

Those with the smallest safety nets, such as people in precarious and low-waged jobs, will be the ones who are least able to stay at home. The pressure to be allowed outside – and the impacts of not being allowed to do so - will therefore be unequally distributed. We know that some people are more at risk if they do contract the virus: those with underlying health conditions, older people and in the UK,black people.

This inequality of who suffers the most will replicate the already unequal distribution in our societies. And if immunity passports are administered digitally, then those without access to a device will be automatically excluded. This stratification of society by biological and health characteristics, as well as access to tech, is dangerous and authoritarian.

Don’t let science fiction become reality Digital immunity passports are no longer the preserve of science fiction. There is a very real risk that these schemes are putting innovation and appearance over public health, in a move often called “technosolutionism”. Digital and biometric immunity passports not only threaten the integrity of our sensitive bodily and health data, but create a stratified society where those who can afford to prove their immunity will have access to spaces and services that the remainder will not– de facto becoming second class citizens. The New York Times calls this “immunoprivilege.”

When the time comes that we have solid scientific evidence about immunity, it will be up to public health officials to work out how this can translate into certification, and for data protection and privacy authorities and experts to help guide governments to ensure that any measures strictly respect and promote fundamental rights and freedoms.

Until then, let’s rather focus on improving our national health systems, ensuring that research goes into preventing this and future pandemics (despite the push-back from Big Pharma) and that we build a new society free of virus such as COVID-19 and surveillance capitalism.

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Towards global energy sustainability — special report from Science Magazine

GLOBAL 2000 —
the report that was but wasn’t

    first published February 13, 2004 - Newsmedianews


“Measurements of greenhouse gases at Mace Head in Ireland have shown that baseline concentrations of many of the gases reached the highest background concentrations ever recorded in 2000, the latest year for fully validated data.” - from DEFRA study

Check it out ...It is interesting that on an average visit to the family GP you will be asked with something approaching a frown if you are a smoker. Chances are too that if you say yes you will again be the focus of a frown. And yet interestingly enough that same GP will probably leave his surgery, get into a car and quite uncaringly spew contaminants over every person on every street down which he or she drives.

And should they go on holiday, once again the chances are that they will fly, becoming part of an airborne culture that is inexorably killing off our planet. And this is not a doomsday gripe from some pot smoking target of the ignorant—it is the reality that will unavoidably affect your own life and the lives of our children.

This is the selfish, blinkered vision world we are developing. Regardless of all of our conscientious streams of blather, they remain just blather, disinfected and wiped by the conglomerates who are poisoning our planet for their own profits.

In the mid-70s, initiated by the US administration of the time under President Carter, what was to become the most comprehensive international scientific examination into global environment change ever conducted began. Under the auspices of the UN, almost every country of the world participated in what was to become the largest scientific gathering and analysis of environmental data in history.

The results of the investigation were duly published and contained a bleak forewarning of doom. This was not the ramblings of some hash-brained hippies writhing in grief over visions of the end of civilisation. It was the dedicated work of eminent and highly skilled and knowledgeable scientists, backed by the latest and most reliable techniques and equipment available.

In short, they knew what they were talking about. Within an astonishingly short space of time, the report had been buried. Tackling the issues raised was contrary to all industrial and national economies and profit ideologies. The short term greed driven vision took precedence over any sensible long term view of reality. And we are now reaping the results of that short-sighted greed.


The below graphs illustrates the dramatic rise in annual temperatures for the UK between 1700 and 2000. Note how the mean average, shown by the red line, soars from the late 80s on. (reprinted from DEFRA)

The graph on the right shows the annual global picture.

By the time of the UN Conference on the Environment held in Rio in 1992 and which led to the drafting of the Convention on Climate Change, the Global 2000 Report had been all but forgotten. The actions advocated at Rio, and later at the second Convention on Climate Change held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, were equivalent to pissing against the wind.

The true impact of the realities and globally catastrophic dangers posed by the acceleration of global warming through fossil fuel use, industry and motorisation failed to be grasped, despite their widespread knowledge. It is an astonishing view of a global civilisation willing to ignore its very survival in favour of personal wants.

A comprehensive search of the Internet fails to produce easy to find references to the Global 2000 report. Among the predictions it contained was the stark warning of instant catastrophe waiting in the wings as the southern and northern ice packs change in density. The current one degree ‘wobble’ of the earth about its axis is partly due to and is affected by the offset mass of the Antarctica ice pack. Should that fragile balance change, the wobble will not simply get worse or less—it will throw the whole kilter of the earth’s axial rotation off.

Chaos will result as the planet adopts and adjusts to the new axis of rotation. But before then, global flooding, instant ice ages and global weather mayhem will transform the surface of our world far beyond anything that even the most far fetched environmental horror movie has ever even tried to conceptualise. It will be the old age of global civilisation as we know it and the effects may well all but eradicate limbed life on this planet. Those are the harsh facts.

Some months ago scientists from the UK attempted to inform the US of the true realities of the dangers of global warming and climate change. It is a threat that far surpasses any threat posed by Al Qaeda or any terrorist group, they say—something that has held the US preoccupied since 9/11.

The efforts of the scientists, no matter how sincere, can be somewhat compared to teaching grandmother to suck eggs. Grandmother, in this case the United States, believed she already knew how to suck eggs so well that she simply put them all back in the cupboard and forgot all about them as unimportant.

It is quite likely that the new efforts to focus on the very real and very pressing dangers posed by global warming will be equally ignored and buried, just as was Global 2000.

And it may be that having prevaricated for so long, we have left it too late to tackle. We may well begin to be seeing the advent of the collapse of civilisation in as little as 15 years from now.

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Note added on August 9, 2005
In 1980, Dr. Gerald O. Barney directed the Global 2000 Report for President Carter. This was the first and only report by any national government on the economic, demographic, resource, and environmental future of the world. It sold over 1.5 million copies in 8 languages!

Now, in this new, updated Global 2000 Revisited: What Shall We Do?, Dr. Barney, Jane Blewett, and Kristen Barney have assembled new data on global trends -- and challenged the world to devote the 1990s and beyond to addressing the critical issues of the 21st century.
Read Global 2000 Revisited (pdf file)      web page

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Climate change - a result of increase in solar radiation?

Climate Change - The Extreme Conflict
At the age of seven I had a dream that I was consumed by a nuclear blast. I saw the distant explosion, the shockwave, felt the onrush of the searing heat and saw my bones through suddenly translucent skin, as if through X-ray eyes.
I knew exactly what happening in the dream, which was strange.
Strange, because when I was seven it was 1957. No movies had then been made showing nuclear explosions. We certainly didn't learn about them at school in those days, and it was not something I'd seen on television, in those days again only black and white, of course.
The dream had been in full vivid colour. And I was right there, and died in that searing blast.
In later years, a friend thought I may have somehow tuned in to the thoughts of someone who had been in the Hiroshima or Nagasaki blasts, but I doubt that somehow. Not its possibility, but that it was what had happened on this occasion.
There was an eerie perception that I was actually there, but had been transported to another and not too distant time. And it was, it seemed, time from the future and not the past. But then, what did happen in the past? Why are there such vacant holes in our known history? Why are there so many variations in global localised radiation levels? Why so many why's?
President Bush and Tony Blair have been spearheading a war against terrorism since 2001. They urge that that world must be protected from such destruction.
And yet, destruction through another major conflict looks increasingly likely as levels of hope sink.
And sinking they are, if we exercise honest appraisal. The turmoil in draught and poverty stricken countries wrenches at us, but does not wrench from hopelessness. We know we can change such poor circumstances for the better, if it does take a long, long time given existing trends.
Thus, hope survives.
Global warming and planetary chaos through nature gone wild is, however, beyond us. We cannot do anything to change it. We can do very, very little to protect ourselves against it other than try to prepare a path for our best chances of survival, and nothing at all to avoid it short of fleeing the planet. Climate change is natural, cosmos driven and not, as the alarmists mistakenly would have us believe, due to CO2 emissions. Such emissions have barely a perceptible effect. Being told to switch off appliances etc to ‘save energy’ and reduce CO2 emissions is like throwing ping pong balls at the moon in the stupid belief that they will shift the moon from its orbit. The eminent UK scientist Professor Stephen Hawking has advocated that if humanity is to survive it must begin looking to colonise other planets. The cycle of global pollution has simply progressed too far and the runaway train has left the tracks and is racing across the plain… But the reality is, we must look to ensure survival possibilities for future generations.
It is however the loss of true hope for the future that is perhaps one of the greater unseen dangers of our present time.
Hopelessness breeds several things in addition to resignation. It breeds despair and reduces the sense of identification. And the loss of identification leads to the loss of care.
It is that eroded sense of care that is most dangerous. In isolation, it can be countered. When it becomes a part of the herd mentality, chaos ensues.
Surely history has taught us that?
Modern communications have broadened public awareness many thousandfold over the course of the last 200 years. What might not have been known about outside of just one small locality of the world 200 years ago can now be known about almost across the entire planet in just a matter of hours.
The herd on the stampede.
Prayer might help. It sends out positive vibrations for hope. But it cannot defeat the inevitable. For that, we can only wait for a miracle.

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