WHO to Expand Digital COVID-19 ID System, Raising Concerns about Privacy and Personal Freedoms

Originally published June 6, 2023 9:00 pm PDT

In a move that underscores a growing push toward digital health initiatives amid a global pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced plans to adopt and expand upon the European Union’s digital COVID-19 digital identification system.

This computerized framework serves as the “first building block” of the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN).

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General who holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Community Health from the University of Nottingham, claimed that “[b]uilding on the EU’s highly successful digital certification network, WHO aims to offer all WHO Member States access to an open-source digital health tool.”

However, critics and observers may express concerns about the implications for personal freedoms and the potential for such a system to pave the way for a dystopian future in which individuals’ sensitive information is tracked and potentially used against them.

It’s clear that while digital health passports could potentially streamline travel and health security, they could also raise significant questions about privacy and the reach of global organizations into individual health records.

The EU’s digital certification network, according to WHO, is “based on the principles of equity, innovation, transparency, and data protection and privacy.”

Nonetheless, transparency in implementation, as well as public trust and acceptance, are crucial aspects that will determine the success and public approval of such an initiative.

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, recognized this partnership as a “powerful example of how alignment between the EU and the WHO can deliver better health for all.”

Yet, in the push for global health security, it’s imperative that such initiatives remain balanced against the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

Moreover, underscoring the broader implications of such a project, Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, noted, “The EU certificate has not only been an important tool in our fight against the pandemic, but has also facilitated international travel and tourism.”

However, as we expand this tool globally, it will be essential to maintain individual liberties.

The partnership is not without its assurances.

The WHO maintains that it “will not have access to any underlying personal data, which would continue to be the exclusive domain of governments.”

Still, as the digital health landscape unfolds, the stewardship of this data will be a contentious and critical topic to monitor.