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LETTER: Vaccine passports not about privacy but public health

Reader asks, would Ann Cavoukian have objected to 'Typhoid Mary' being 'outed' as the carrier of a deadly disease?
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In a recent interview, former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian spoke out forcefully against vaccine passports.

She was speaking from the privacy viewpoint. She assumed that the individual or corporate entity checking a vaccination passport would, somehow, have access to the passport holder’s medical history.

This is definitely not the way a vaccination passport would work. Such a document would reside in your wallet on paper, or perhaps kept electronically on your cellphone. When you present your ticket to a theatre or a sports arena, the attendant would scan your copy of the passport. Their scanner would respond 'yes' or 'no', plus the photo on your OHIP card so they could check that you are who you claim to be.

No other information would be transmitted and nothing would be retained, except to check that the same identification number could not be presented a second time at that event.

We know how to do this because that’s what happens when you pay with your credit card. All the cashier knows is that the payment has been made. The shop itself does not receive any other financial information about you – not your credit rating nor your bank balance.

The provincial health system has no reason to divulge any of your medical history, whether you have had knee surgery or received treatment for AIDS, or even your age, and the gate attendant (airport or stadium entrance) has no power to request more.

Would Ann Cavoukian have objected to Mary Mallon’s being “outed” as the carrier of a deadly disease?

Mary Mallon was the infamous 'Typhoid Mary' who worked as a cook. Wherever she worked, outbreaks of typhoid occurred.

Eventually, after causing more than 50 people to become ill (three of whom died), Mary Mallon was identified and isolated for two decades until her death at age 69. Her body was cremated!

It’s not an individual privacy issue. It’s a public health issue! And a vaccine passport can be a tool to help persuade anti-vaxxers to become immunized.

Peter Bursztyn