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A simple guide to the NZ My Vaccine Pass

The Ministry of Health has released the technical specifications of its Covid vaccine pass. The documents call it My Vaccine Pass.

There are two passes. The domestic pass is simple. It will carry the minimum of information. The international pass is a little more complicated.

Each pass is an offical record of a person’s vaccination statues. You’ll be able to use them to get into places, to use services like air transport and so on.

We will see these later this month.

A QR code

The pass is stored as a QR code, like the codes used today when you check in to a site using your phone and the official Covid app.

You can also download and print out a version of the QR code if you don’t have a phone. There aren’t many people in that category and it’s likely people who don’t have a phone are going to be people who can’t easily print out a paper code. Hopefully they will be able to print out the codes at a library or marae.

You have to use the code with a form of photo ID, maybe your driving licence or a passport.

Phone app

There’s also a phone app that shopkeepers and others can use to confirm that you are vaccinated. The people using the app will scan your QR code and then check the name tallies with the name on your ID.

The Ministry of Health has opened the technology so that companies and organisations can build their own verification tools. Air New Zealand might want something different to your corner diary.

Your pass verifies you are considered vaccinated. It will run out at some point. How long it lasts hasn’t been made public yet. When booster shots become available they will be included.

Trust, privacy

There is a lot of talk about trust and privacy.

I asked the office of the privacy commissioner if there were any issues to worry about and was given a stock reply that the office has worked with the government on the pass.

It’s cryptic, but implies there are no serious concerns.

One pass to rule them all

Only the Ministry of Health can issue a pass.

The Ministry says people using verification should not trust what they see printed on a pass, only what they see from the verification app.

Companies using the app are not supposed to store the data. At the moment that’s a request although Parliament is due to pass legislation limiting data collection from the passes.

You’re not being monitored

Each scan only lasts a few seconds and disappears. There isn’t any formal reporting back to base (although the Ministry will collect analytical data), so when you show your card at the local pub, no-one in the Ministry or anywhere else in government gets to know about that.

A company called Mattr is building the digital plumbing behind the pass.

It’s an interesting business. Mattr is a subsidiary of Spark that specialises in verifying data in ways that are secure and protect privacy.

In its words, Mattr deals with digital trust. It started business in 2019 .

The technology used for the pass was developed here in New Zealand before the pandemic and is exported overseas. One of the company’s customers is the US Department of Homeland security. It is also working on a project with the US National Science Foundation to look at ways of protecting people from false or manipulated online material.

You can hear me talking about the vaccine pass with Susie Ferguson on RNZ Nine-to-Noon. 

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