COVID-19 Passport key to unlocking countries

26 Jun 2020

Across the globe, lockdowns are reducing the spread of COVID-19. But as countries reopen, effective ways to identify potential virus carriers may help prevent a second outbreak. TNO and its consortium partners has developed an app that helps users digitally prove they’ve been tested for, or - perhaps in the future - vaccinated against, COVID-19. The app can help allow safe access to locations and help to reopen countries and economies.

Contact Sterre den Breeijen for more information


Passport app to identify and protect

The idea seems simple: develop a ‘COVID-19 Passport’ – an app on users’ mobile phones that identifies them as testing negative for COVID-19, without disclosing any personal information about them. In the future, the app could also be used to show if a person has been vaccinated against the virus. This would allow healthcare workers safe entry into facilities that need their help. It might also be used to allow visitors to safely enter nursing care facilities to visit loved ones, or more swiftly enable travel between regions.

But there’s a lot of technology required to make the app useable on a broad scale. To protect users’ privacy and create a system that is recognised in a particular region, TNO is utilising its expertise in Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) and blockchain technology to ensure that users remain in control of who can access what information about them. Only then will users feel comfortable sharing their COVID-19 status when needed.

Local innovation as part of global standardisation

In the Netherlands, TNO worked with a number of private and public partners to create uNLock. This consortium is developing an app that maintains the highest levels of privacy, while enabling an identification system that can help healthcare workers and the public reinstate social and business interactions more swiftly.

A concrete example: if additional nurses are needed at a care facility due to the coronavirus, those nurses could open their ‘COVID-19 Passport’ for scanning at the entrance. Controllers would see a green square if the nurse complies to the access policy, or a red square if he/she does not comply, for whatever reason. All compliant personnel could then be granted access to the care facility, thus limiting the risks. This application of the technology is currently being tested with several care facilities and labs in the Netherlands.

Mobile passport can offer support beyond COVID-19

But TNO’s expertise reaches well beyond COVID-19. Pieter: ‘With the right group of partners, we can build an app that helps with reopening after COVID-19, but could also act as a complete virus “passport”. This can help control any kind of outbreak. And, as refugees move from one region to another, they can keep track of their own vaccinations, eliminating the need for paperwork that often gets lost or can be altered.’ The technology is already being used in refugee camps to help identify those who qualify for food rations and more.

Newest technology to ensure ethical and legal guidelines

Pieter also notes the role of the app’s special ethics board. ‘We always examine the legal and ethical questions that go with technology like this. We want to ensure that the technology is used to help – not hinder – human interaction. So any project in which we engage will need to adhere to our strict ethical and legal standards,’ he explains.

Want know how the COVID-19 Passport app may help to safely reopen countries after a virus outbreak? Curious about how blockchain and Self-Sovereign Identity can help limit the chances of a second outbreak? Contact TNO for more.

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Dr. ir. Oskar van Deventer

  • Scientific Coordinator

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