Safe passage

Safe passage

February 17, 2021

How do digital health passports work and what is the technology behind them? Bev Fearis talks to International SOS to find out

A digital health passport enables the user to verify their Covid-19 status wherever it is needed throughout their journey. When someone verifies the pass, the technology validates the digital signature of the individual’s pass to ensure authenticity. An individual’s pass is then verified without the need of showing any personal or medical information.

The key to having a working solution is the aligned network of trusted partners, combined with secure technology. Our pass, ICC AOKpass, uses blockchain technology and brings together three global players: International SOS, the International Chamber of Commerce, and SGS (Societe Generale of Surveillance), specialists in inspection, control, analysis, and certification.

AOKpass has the backing of many major players in the air transport and international trade and development industries who are working to restore connectivity between countries: ICC, SGS, WTO, the International Union of Road Carriers, the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, the World Council and others.

What are the challenges digital passports face in being recognised globally?

There is a need for an end-to-end process, with agreements through a number of highly-regulated environments, including airlines, airports, immigration services and medical testing labs. There needs to be agreement throughout the chain that data is secure, verifiable and protected from fraud.

How are apps like AOKpass combating privacy concerns of personal medical data?
ICC AOKpass uses blockchain technology to ensure that the storage and transmission of information is unfalsifiable through a decentralised infrastructure. This technology allows individuals to maintain full control of their information in ICC AOKpass, while being able to certify the authenticity of the results for all stakeholders throughout a trip. ICC AOKpass is also GDPR compliant, which should give confidence to users that their data is secure and that privacy is protected.

A major advantage of having the medical information held in a digitally secure way is that it can also prevent medical records being easily falsified, as can happen with paper certificates.

What’s the difference between AOKpass and IATA’s Travel Pass, VeriFLY and others, or are these essentially all doing the same thing?

We all have the same aim and that is to get the travel industry up and running again so that travellers can travel safely and there is restored confidence, which in turn will help to open up the economy. However, there are fundamental differences in the technology used and the practical implementation currently. ICC AOKpass’ use of secure blockchain technology, for example, ensures that the traveller’s health information is held confidentially.

Isn’t there a need for one pass to be adopted globally?
There does need to be global alignment and agreement on the security and acceptance of health passes, although it is likely there will be multiple passes in place concurrently. The fact that several are being developed is pushing the agenda forward for safe travel, which is a positive for the industry and the global economy. ICC AOKpass is built to be interoperable with any solution, standard or system for the verification and authentication of digital health data.

How are the trials of AOKpass going so far? What’s the next phase?
Our pilots are going very well. ICC AOK Pass has processed hundreds of health passes for airlines and airports since September 2020. It was the first digital Covid health pass to allow a traveller to pass through the immigration checkpoint on a flight from Japan to Singapore in December 2020.

ICC AOKpass is already internationally recognised and accepted widely. In total, nearly 130 airports in 18 countries are ready to deploy pilots with airlines, including ADP Group, TAV, Alitalia, and Aeroporto Di Roma.

Etihad Airways has also recently launched an advanced operational pilot for the digitalisation of pre-departure Covid-19 testing using the ICC AOKpass mobile app. Following the success of an initial pilot between AOKpass and Etihad launched in September 2020, the use of ICC AOKpass is now offered to Etihad passengers flying from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Abu Dhabi.

The signing of various Memorandums of Understanding with the main airport groups allows ICC AOKpass to perfect the application and adapt it to the different uses within laboratories, transport bodies and other authorities.

For example, with the rollout and gradual recognition of rapid antigen testing at airports, the application is being adapted so that laboratories can integrate these new testing modes into the app and enable travellers to prove to authorities/travel organisations that they don’t have the virus.

ICC AOKpass is also being piloted by Girona city, allowing users to present a digitally authenticated Covid-19 negative test result to gain entry into public exhibitions, business events, restaurants, and football matches.