The lack of global standards for Covid-19 certificates is a key barrier to their successful implementation across the globe, a new report warns.

A recent research from the University of Exeter has identified three key barriers to the implementation of Covid-19 health status certificates. These are- lack of trust, lack of global standards, and lack of a holistic approach.

According to the research, policymakers will need to ensure that coronavirus health status certificate providers abide by basic data protection principles, including lawfulness, fairness and transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity and confidentiality, and accountability.

"Experts have called for widely accepted international standards for documentation which records Covid-19 vaccination and health status, although implementing them quickly will be difficult," it said in an official release.

Furthermore, policymakers should ensure that Covid-19 health status certificate providers build data protection into the design of these certificates by default. They should further maintain the confidentiality and security of the information collected and processed for such documents. Certificate providers should also prevent any unauthorised access, accidental loss, damage, or destruction of the data.

Report findings

The report further recommended that as the certificates will be required only during the pandemic, their use should be discontinued once the WHO declares that Covid-19 is no longer a public health emergency of international concern.

The report also emphasised on the availability of Covid-19 health status certificates for all and just those citizens who have high levels of digital literacy. It also highlighted the risks of fraud associated with paper-based certificates.

The research further underlined the need for secure applications and embedded technologies such as QR codes for such documents.

The report presented independent research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI)’s rapid response to Covid-19.

The research was led by Dr Ana Beduschi. It was further informed by twenty semi-structured interviews with technologists and experts in digital identity and certification conducted between December 2020 and March 2021.

It also leveraged the insights and views of experts who participated in two workshops in March 2021 and May 2021.

Dr Beduschi said: “Focusing only on the technological solutions for Covid-19 health status certificates is not sufficient. As these certificates have a direct impact on people’s rights, there is a crucial need to consider the laws and regulations, including those on data privacy and human rights."

“If effectively implemented, Covid-19 health status certificates may contribute to managing the effects of the current pandemic. Yet, their introduction poses significant challenges to data privacy, equality and non-discrimination. The urgency surrounding the adoption of these measures should not lead to governments rolling out Covid-19 health status certificates in haste without the appropriate protection of data privacy and human rights," Dr Beduschi said.

“Policymakers must strike an adequate balance between protecting the rights and freedoms of all individuals and safeguarding public interests, while managing the effects of the pandemic,” Dr Beduschi further added.