Following the Prime Ministers speech on the 8th of December and his following speech on the 15th of December (2021), the UK is facing yet another round of COVID-19 restrictions, with more in tow if the pandemic continues to once again become unmanageable for the NHS.
With new variants emerging from neighbouring countries, and very few limits regarding international travel, there has been an increasing need to bring verification of COVID-19 status into action. One question still unanswered is if COVID-19 passes will be compulsory for international travel.
What we know about the NHS COVID Pass
On the 1st of October 2021, The Department of Health and Social Care offered guidance on how individuals were able to apply for proof of their vaccination status via the NHS COVID Pass. The COVID Pass would be used by large venues in order to verify the vaccination status, or a negative lateral flow test result, of individuals entering the venue, with the aim of minimising the spread of the virus.
The current NHS COVID Pass has come under scrutiny after crashing within hours of the Prime Minister’s confirmation that the pass will be required to gain entry to nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any event with more than 10,000 people.
NHS Digital has said they are investigating the issue as a priority, understanding the importance of the app being in working order.
Read our recent article on Forensic security features.
What does the rise in cases and variants mean for travel?
The rules currently stand that all travellers to the UK (and returning to the UK from their travels) must show proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow (privately sourced only) test result. After arriving in the UK, travellers must isolate for two days, after which they must take another PCR test that should be booked prior to travelling to the UK from a Government approved list.
What are the risks surrounding the verification of vaccine passports?
The security risks surrounding the NHS COVID Pass are growing, with an increasing number of individuals selling fake Vaccine Certificates on the Darknet. These fake documents are able to pass EU systems designed to verify the validity of the COVID certificates. The QR codes on the certificates enable individuals to access restaurants, bars and clubs in an attempt to lower the restrictions of travelling within some European countries.
The extent to which the fake certificates are being used to pass the verification process has not yet been confirmed, but certainly causes concern about the spread of the virus among those that are following the rules and using the verification process correctly.
Meanwhile, in the UK there has also been growing concern surrounding the ability to screenshot and share the QR code provided on the NHS COVID Pass app. This process, therefore, relies on the honesty of those using the pass to gain entry to locations safely, something that has caused major controversy.
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What can we expect from the future of the NHS COVID Pass and how might this affect other forms of digital verification?
The future of the NHS COVID Pass and the transition of its use to verify international travel status is still unclear. However, with a number of other developing digital technologies being used to verify identification, it is likely that if COVID continues to disrupt the world, governments will look to integrate vaccination status as part of personal identification documents such as passports.
In the meantime, it is integral to establish a method in which individuals are able to secure confirmation of their vaccination status without the worry of compromised encryption features delegitimising the current system. The issues surrounding this form of validation can also span to risks protecting personal information, something that should be at the forefront of efforts to resolve.
Our prediction is that when this validation process is rolled out successfully, it will likely be used in a similar way to other verification tools used by many, such as contactless pay.
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