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The Technology 202: European countries are starting to issue vaccine passports. The system is very different than the U.S. approach.

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with Aaron Schaffer

Seven European countries started issuing “vaccine passports” yesterday, underscoring how digital credential systems could play a critical role in resuming international travel. 

“The EU Digital Covid Certificate” is a special code that can be shown on a screen or printed out to verify that a person has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, received a negative test or has recovered from the virus. The system seeks to exempt people with certificates from certain quarantine requirements. 

Germany and Greece are among the countries already issuing the passes, and the certificates are expected to be rolled out in all 27 European Union countries as of July 1.

“EU citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and they want to do so safely,” Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, said in a news release. “Having an EU certificate is a crucial step on the way.” 

Proof of vaccination to travel or attend school is not new, but the coronavirus has introduced a potential need to modernize outdated paper standards. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)
Europe and the United States are taking divergent approaches to using technology to reopen society. 

European lawmakers are positioning their approach as “a common tool” that will allow people to travel more freely between countries. That stands in sharp contrast to the United States, where proposals for a national vaccine passport system emerged as a political lightning rod and sparked privacy concerns. 

However, Americans may have to use such tools to verify vaccination statuses abroad. The goal is for all travelers, not just European residents, to connect to the E.U.'s digital system, as Michael Birnbaum and Quentin  Ariès reported. But until then, some vaccinated Americans may still be subject to quarantines. The European Commission is engaged in talks with the United States about how to confirm the vaccination status of American travelers, the New York Times reports. 

Yet there are challenges for rolling out such programs. 

One of the biggest issues with vaccine verification systems is that many countries, including the United States, have relied on paper proof of vaccinations, which can easily be forged. In the European Union, national health authorities will be responsible for verifying existing proofs of vaccination, Michael and Quentin reported. 

In response to privacy concerns about the system, the European Commission has built what it calls a “gateway” that will verify the certificates across the E.U., but does not store individuals' data. All data that needs to be retained for the system to work is stored in the country that issued the individual their certificate. The commission also helped countries develop national software to securely and privately issue and store the certificates. 

A patchwork of different systems is emerging in the United States. 

The White House said last month the federal government will not play a role in developing a standardized vaccine passport. In sharp contrast to the system that will be used across the E.U., the U.S. private sector and individual states are developing their own systems. 

But there are concerns about a lack of a standard approach, which might mean people will need multiple passes for different activities. 

“When you think about standards, we should have one, but we have at least five organizations coming up with standards,” Eric Piscini, the team lead for IBM’s digital health pass, told my colleague Rachel Lerman. “We are working with all five and will be compatible with all five.”

The states and private sector efforts have had mixed results. Most businesses aren't requiring proof of vaccination for people to enter their premises. New York was one of the first states to launch a free passport app, called the Excelsior Pass. My colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler found that it had strong privacy protections, but that it was also easy to fake your vaccination status. About 1.1 million Excelsior Passes have been downloaded as of last week according to the New York Times. But that’s only a fraction of the more than 9 million New Yorkers who have been vaccinated. They're being used to confirm vaccination status at concert venues and arenas.

Hawaii has recently rolled out a vaccine passport for inter-island travel, which was initially only available to people immunized on the islands. 

This patchwork of vaccine passport systems is unlikely to ever take off nationally in the United States. 

Several states including Florida, Georgia and Alabama have already banned the use of vaccine passports. The passports became a front in the pandemic culture wars after Republicans criticized them as government or corporate encroachment on individuals’ rights. 

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Elon Musk’s tweets twice violated a court-ordered policy, securities regulators said.

The Tesla CEO's tweets about the company’s solar roofs and stock price hadn’t been run by company lawyers beforehand, violating a settlement agreement requiring his tweets to be preapproved, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in records obtained by the Wall Street Journal’s Dave Michaels and Rebecca Elliott. The correspondence highlights a broader pattern of Musk and the company defying regulators. 

The company didn't adequately “enforce these procedures and controls despite repeated violations by Mr. Musk,” according to a letter to Tesla that was signed by SEC official Steven Buchholz. “Tesla has abdicated the duties required of it by the court’s order.”

The company, Musk and the SEC did not respond to requests for comment. 

A ransomware attack on the world's biggest meat processor is prompting calls for cybersecurity regulations.

Just like the recent Colonial Pipeline hack, the attack against Brazil-based JBS has highlighted how criminal hackers can disrupt an entire economic sector, my colleague Joseph Marks reports. The pair of attacks has prompted calls for new rules in industries that are critical for U.S. economic security. 

The agriculture and food production sector aren't subject to the new mandates the Biden administration announced for pipelines. Experts say it's time for the government to intervene. 

“Everything is connected and everything is vulnerable and it leads us to this place where we can no longer be polite with critical infrastructure and say, ‘If you can get around to it, it would be good to do the basics,’ ” Kiersten Todt, president of Liberty Group Ventures, told Joseph. 

“We need to be taking a more assertive position of, ‘You have to do the basics and we’re going to check up on you,’ ” she said.  

The JBS hack threatens to send pork and beef costs up, Hamza Shaban reports. The attack has shut down about one-fifth of U.S. beef production. 

Amazon is letting customers take it to court after its arbitration bills added up.

The company is already facing three class-action lawsuits in the wake of its decision to change its terms of service to allow lawsuits, the Wall Street Journal’s Sara Randazzo reports. The change came after the company was hit by tens of thousands of arbitration demands by users of the company’s Echo devices, which cost Amazon tens of millions of dollars in filing fees.

“Companies thought they were getting out of liability altogether,” through arbitration, according to Travis Lenkner of Keller Lenkner LLC, which filed most of the claims against Amazon. “Now they’re seeing exactly what they bargained for, and they don’t like it.” (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Few companies have shunned arbitration altogether like Amazon. But other tech companies such as Uber and Lyft have tried to get out of paying the massive filing fees or have guided the claims to court.

Rant and rave

Yale Law School clinical teaching fellow Renée Burbank:

Journalist Casey Newton:

Journalist Karl Bode:

Privacy monitor

Amid post-cookie confusion, Amazon plans to launch an identifier of its own (Digiday)

Workforce report

Amazon calls warehouse workers 'industrial athletes' in leaked wellness pamphlet (Motherboard)

Trending

Everything’s becoming a subscription, and the pandemic is partly to blame (Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam)

Mentions

  • Joaquin Quiñonero Candela is leaving Facebook and taking a three-month “Internet sabbatical.” He led the company’s Responsible AI team.
  • Aarthi Ramamurthy is joining Clubhouse as its head of international. She previously worked as director of product at Facebook’s Communities Product Group.
  • Microsoft vice president of public affairs Dominic Carr has joined Lyft as vice president of communications, Politico reports.
  • Dane Glasgow, who worked as vice president of product for Google Maps, has left to work on Facebook's entertainment products, Insider's Hugh Langley reports.
  • Aurora and Embark, which are members of the Self-Driving Coalition, have joined the coalition’s board of directors.

Daybook

  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) discusses “deepfake” videos at the Deepfakes, Disinformation and Democracy conference today at 1 p.m. 
  • Keith Gabbard, the CEO of the Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative, discusses President Biden's broadband infrastructure plan at the Brookings Institution today at 2 p.m.
  • Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off with a keynote on June 7 at 1 p.m.

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