Digital health passports should not be introduced on a mass basis in order to protect data privacy and human rights, a report has warned. 

Digital health passports, also known as immunity passports, are digital credentials which when combined with identity verification allow people to prove their health status.

Report author Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter, said policymakers needed to strike a balance between protecting the rights and freedoms of all individuals and safeguarding public interests while managing the effects of the pandemic.

She said: “Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the Covid-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights.

“They build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights individuals may enjoy."

Dr Beduschi warned digital health passports may interfere with several fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, the freedoms of movement and peaceful assembly.

The report also warns that the use of digital health passports may have an impact on equality and non-discrimination and said the failure to address issues with the availability and affordability of tests and vaccines risks excluding already vulnerable people from protection against Covid-19.

If some people cannot access or afford Covid-19 tests and vaccines they will not be able to prove their health status, thus having their freedoms de facto restricted.

She added: “Given that digital health passports contain sensitive personal information, domestic laws and policies should carefully consider the conditions of collection, storage and uses of the data by private sector providers.

“It is also crucial that the communities that have already been badly impacted by the pandemic have swift access to affordable tests and, eventually, vaccines.

“Otherwise, deploying digital health passports could further deepen the existing inequalities in society.”

Multiple initiatives to develop and deploy digital health passports are currently under way in the UK and abroad, to facilitate the return to work, travel, and attending large sports events.

READ: No plans for 'vaccine passport' to allow people access to pubs and restaurants

On Tuesday Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove that there were no plans for an 'immunity passport' for people to be allowed in places such as pubs and restaurants.

His comments come after the Government’s vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested hospitality and other businesses, such as cinemas and football stadiums could bar those who have not had a Covid-19 vaccine.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast and Sky News on Tuesday morning, Mr Gove said: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that’s not the plan.

“What we want to do is to make sure that we can get vaccines effectively rolled out.

“I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports and I don’t know anyone else in Government (who is).

“I think the most important thing to do is make sure that we vaccinate as many people as possible.

“Of course, individual businesses have the capacity to make decisions about who they will admit and why.

“But the most important thing that we should be doing at this stage is concentrating on making sure the vaccine is rolled out.”

The full report, by Dr Beduschi is entitled: Digital Health Passports for Covid-19: Data Privacy and Human Rights Law, and is published by the University of Exeter.