By Mwanambuyu Sitwala
The current pandemic is wakening us to the reality of certain technologies we thought were far away in a distant future. Today, we now have COVI PASS which will be launched or being launched in 15 countries. Without the COVI PASS, it is imagined that you will not be allowed to enter public places such as Cinemas, stadia, workplace or shopping malls. In the UK, tickets sales for your favourite English Premier live games might be sold only to those with COVI PASS. Sorry am not discussing COVI PASS today, so please you can read more online over this one. However, this year we have seen 3 of powerful global firms teaming up to help us return to past normal as we knew it as soon as possible.
In an effort to “efficiently deliver vaccines to millions of children, tracking IDENTITY and immunization records in a DIGITIZED manner and incentivizing the delivery of vaccines,” Gavi the Vaccine Alliance which is one of the global firms spearheading the development of the COVID-19 vaccine initially entered into a Public Private Partnership with Mastercard in 2018 in order to deploy the Mastercard Wellness Pass for interested Gavi eligible countries. You might be aware that Mastercard is “a technological company in the global payments industry committed to leading the way towards a WORLD BEYOND CASH”.
With the world currently being ravaged by the covid 19 pandemic, GAVI announced last June that Mastercard’s Wellness Pass program had “the potential to be adapted in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic”. Last month in July an interesting thing happened when Mastercard announced that another company called Trust Stamp will also be incorporated into this Wellness Pass partnership due to its advanced Artificial Intelligence biometric identity platform. Trust Stamp is set to prove the identity without revealing any information as part of their zero knowledge approach to online identity verification.
In other words, what the Trust Stamp brings to the table in this partnership is its unique capability to provide biometric identity at a global scale which even includes places that lack internet access or cellular connectivity. Moreover, this capability does not even require knowledge of an individual’s legal name or identity to function. By the way, this program is scheduled to be launched in West Africa this year.
However, the teaming up of these technologically advanced firms have unsettled some sections of the society. Some fear that this technology is likely going to be used in vaccination programs and implemented at a global scale when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available most likely in 2021. The fear is that this program will end up linking people’s biometric digital identities to their vaccination records.
As others see this program as “part of the Global War on Cash with potential use for the purposes of surveillance based on one’s vaccination history; the fear is that those who may not wish to be vaccinated may be locked out of the economic and social system based on their trust score”.
The Wellness Pass is here and is set for global implementation. Some people ask whether the world will ever return to the ‘old normal’ under the same conditions again as we knew it before? Only time will tell. What is clear is that technologies aimed at making the whole world digitalized have already been developed and ready for use, and these are knocking at our very own doors including here in Africa and other developing countries.
The author is Public Health consultant working for the Ministry of Health, Zambia as Senior Planner