Yesterday Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of COVID passports, which would be used to restrict services to those who cannot prove they have been either vaccinated or in post-COVID recovery. The order is the latest on the growing debate around the political and ethical considerations around the wide use of COVID passports.
The order, which the governor announced will be accompanied by complementing state legislation, prohibits any state government entity to produce any type of documentation with the aim of sharing the vaccination information of any individual with third parties. It also bans businesses around the state to require patreons to use COVID passports in order to receive service or enter their shop.
COVID Passports: The new fight in pandemic policy-making
This comes as there is a renewed push for and against COVID passports in America. While Florida has decided to ban the practice, both to government officials and private companies, New York has gone into the complete opposite of the spectrum (as usual) and has already developed a state-sponsored passport system, called Excelsior, which was launched last week.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has began working to draft a serie of uniform guidelines over the development of any type of COVID passport around the country, according to the Washington Post.
The idea for COVID passports is neither new nor unique to the United States, with the European Union also considering launching a vaccination passport that would encompass the entire population (around 440 million people) of the bloc, while Israel already has a “Green Pass” system in their country, which is a mandatory for entry to certain places.
Supporters of the wide implementation of the COVID passports have argued that the measure would help incentivize vaccination and ease the efforts to reopen the economy by making people feel safer in public.
Opponents, on the other hand, have raised concerns on the ethical, privacy, and civil rights aspects of the issue. As it would create huge private data security risks, since any system would have to securely storage medical data of millions of Americans, while it also opens up questions on the infringement of liberties of those who are either unable or unwilling to get a vaccine.
The American public appears to be evenly divided on the use of COVID passports, with a survey published by the New England Journal of Medicine, indicating that support for a government mandated passport program has less than 45% of overall support, while a private immunity certificates has a slightly superior approval by the general population (almost 47%).
The Politics of a ban on COVID passports
Governor DeSantis, who has become a rising star in the Republican Party, is trying to set himself as an advocate of personal liberty and civil liberties in COVID-related issues. As he has repeatedly touted his administration’s hesitance against harsh lockdowns, eagerness on reopening and rapid vaccination as the best approach to handle the pandemic.
His latest ban on COVID passports is not a move only destined at maintaining the Florida model for reopening intact, it is also a clever way of positioning himself at the front of the opposition on an issue that can become one of the most debated and controversial topics in the country, enhancing his national brand in the process.
The incoming debate on COVID vaccination passports would cast the spotlight on how to balance the need to ensure public health on one side, while respecting the individual liberties and privacy of citizens in the other. While this discussion might not be new on human history (plagues have always existed), our digital reality would certainly bring many more complex challenges to those who want to implement such programs.
The issue of passports appears to be the new battlefront on the COVID policy wars, let’s hope is the last one.