The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated the digitalisation of public health practices and given rise to novel pandemic-related technologies. Known by a variety of names, COVID-19 digital certificates are one such tool and, at various points during the pandemic, have been required to access public spaces and travel domestically and internationally. The growing reliance on digital pandemic technologies has not developed in a vacuum, however. These solutions shape and are shaped by recent trends in public health, including the transition towards health securitisation, i.e. constructing health issues as national security threats. This shift has been especially concerned with preventing infectious diseases (and the associated human, economic, and political costs) from reaching Northern and Western European and North American nations. To build a nuanced understanding of digital certificates, it is crucial that we study them in the context of these other pertinent developments and the power structures that frame their uses. Indeed, COVID-19 certificates – including their infrastructure, which may outlast its original aims and be re-purposed – could be used to profile, exclude, discriminate, stigmatise, target and/or surveil, as comparable tools have been utilised in similarly exceptional circumstances. They could foster tiered societies predicated on COVID-19 status and amplify existing inequities. As we can learn from past experience, such amplification is inevitable when health securitisation policies are adopted.
Ada Lovelace Institute
Health Securitization, COVID-19, Vaccine / Immunity Certificates, Infectious Disease Ethics, Health Data and Digitalization, Pandemic-related Technology