Navigating COVID-19: Safety & Privacy Through Identity

Opinion

Over the past few months, I — like you — have witnessed the unimaginable.

I’ve not only seen COVID-19 take lives, I’ve seen it take many livelihoods. As the world emerges beyond reactive measures to contain the virus and restart the economy, many industries are figuring out how to rebuild and envisioning a new future that addresses both health and privacy concerns.

One of the most essential questions for leaders is how to re-open businesses without providing new attack vectors for the virus. Industries that rely on people gathering in large numbers need to find new ways to do this safely. Fortunately, advances in technology have opened our eyes to new ways of managing disease transmission within large crowds. Whatever the technology solution, a host of privacy concerns arise that could prevent adoption of the technology. This is where, from my perspective, identity can help alleviate concerns and inspire public trust.

A couple of technologies in particular have caught my eye. One is the idea of an immunity certificate. The idea is that if we can prove someone with COVID-19 antibodies is immune to the virus and does not spread infection to others, then it’s probably safe to allow immune people to gather. Those with COVID-19 antibodies could be issued digital proof that could be presented upon entrance. It’s a very simple idea with some very complicated privacy issues. Individuals may fear that their antibody status has implications related to discrimination by insurance companies, places of work and academic institutions. I believe an individual’s immunity status is their right to control. If we have the right foresight, we can build the technology to ensure privacy and put people back in control of their identity information.

Already, many within the medical and technology communities have started to collaborate. Recently, the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative began work on a digital certificate, and the DID Alliance has begun exploring the implementation of a COVID-19 credential. These projects aim to allow people to prove their immunity or vaccination without compromising their privacy. Identity.com is proud to be a working member of these initiatives.

There’s a second example of COVID-19 transmission reduction technology that has recently caught my eye. Apple and Google are currently developing a contact tracing API that alerts people when they’ve been near others carrying the virus. It’s a brilliant idea, but because participation is voluntary, it will only be adopted if people trust that their personal information will not be misused. Here again, a thoughtful identity solution can help. If we give people the ability to control the sharing of their immunity status, they will have more trust in the system. 

The Identity.com ecosystem was developed with sensitive use cases in mind. By giving control of personally identifiable information over to its owners, we are giving people the ability to selectively share only what they want to share and nothing more. We believe that when people are given tools to manage their identities as they choose, they are better able to protect themselves. As it pertains to COVID-19, I believe that people must be given tools to maintain privacy by being able to prove their identity without sharing the rest of their personal information. Identity.com continues to look forward and partner with industry leaders to help mitigate the effects of this crisis.