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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Growing privacy concerns expressed over use of 'vaccine passports'

Already in use in Israel, "vaccine passports" are also being developed in the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as Japan and China

SAN DIEGO — Nationwide, the pace of the vaccine rollout is reaching record numbers, with nearly three-and-a-half million shots administered every day. 

As businesses worldwide begin to reopen, some countries are developing high-tech ways of providing proof of vaccination. 

A growing number of companies, from airlines to cruise lines to sports teams, say they will require proof of vaccination from customers, and app-based "vaccine passports" could help expedite that process.

In Israel, its government-issued "Green Pass" has already become a way of life.

"It is all safe in the telephone," said one Israeli woman, showing off her Green Pass on her mobile phone. "It is very convenient!"

The digital certification, verifying that a citizen has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19,  is now required in Israel, as users "scan in" to gain entry to gyms, hotels and concerts.

Similar models of these vaccine passports, sometimes called "immunity certificates," are also being developed in the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as Japan and China, as a way of opening international travel.

"It's a very controversial question," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

He stressed the need for all countries to have equitable access to this technology, as well as global cooperation as to how to uniformly roll out a vaccine passport, "because the worst thing would be for some countries to have it, for other countries not to have it, for some countries to recognize it, for other countries not to recognize," Guterres added.

Here in the United States, though, the Biden administration made it clear that any type of vaccine passport program would not be organized through the federal government, and instead left to the private sector.

"There will be no centralized universal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential," said White House spokesperson Jen Psaki. 

New York State is now piloting its own voluntary vaccine passport program developed by IBM.

Called "Excelsior Pass," the app-based digital certification requires users to enter personal data like their name, birth date and zip code.

The app stores information such as the user's most recent inoculation date or confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test. 

It's already been used to gain entry to events at Madison Square Garden, with New York's governor Andrew Cuomo saying it "heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening."

Critics though, including Florida's governor, have serious concerns about privacy issues.

"What, give all this information to some big corporation?" Governor Ron DeSantis asked. "You want the fox to guard the henhouse? I mean, give me a break!"

For its part, IBM has responded to privacy concerns, explaining that it uses special "block-chain technology' to encrypt personal data to help keep it safe.