Covid-19 Vaccine Passports: A Joint Statement from Canada’s Privacy Commissioners

  • June 29, 2021
  • Amanda Branch and Prudence Etkin

On May 19th, 2021 Canada’s Federal, Provincial and Territorial Privacy Commissioners (the “Commissioners”) released a joint statement on the  privacy implications of Covid-19 vaccine passports. Vaccine passports may offer substantial public benefits; however, in exchange for access to these benefits, individuals will be required to disclose personal health information. As a result, when considering the development of a vaccine passport in Canada, the Commissioners emphasize the importance of addressing privacy considerations from the outset.

What is a Vaccine Passport?

‘Vaccine passports’, digital or paper certificates documenting individuals’ vaccination status, have quickly become a global topic amongst businesses, governments, and health authorities as one method of facilitating a return to normalcy, or at the very least, a way to help establish a new normal resembling pre-pandemic life. While scientific information about COVID-19 is rapidly advancing, there is evidence that fully vaccinated individuals have a significantly decreased risk of COVID-19 infection and likely have a decreased risk of spreading the infection. Vaccine passports could provide individuals with a verified means of proving they are vaccinated to travel or gain access to services or locations including, theoretically, concerts, restaurants, and workplaces.

The underlying assumption with vaccine passports is that personal health information, specifically their immunity/vaccine status,  will be required or requested from individuals “in exchange for goods, services and/or access to certain premises”. As such, the Commissioners stated that any vaccine passport initiatives “must be developed and implemented in compliance with applicable privacy laws” and should also incorporate privacy best practices to ensure a high level of privacy protection that is commensurate with the sensitivity of the personal health information.