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“It is unbelievable that so many people are buying into this:” former Privacy Commissioner Cavoukian says vaccine passports are “appalling”

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, three-term Privacy Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, told Road Warrior News she believes that vaccine passports are a clear infringement on privacy. Photo: Global Privacy and Security by Design

“You cannot have freedom without a solid foundation of privacy,” says Dr. Ann Cavoukian. “There is no freedom or liberty without privacy.”

Dr. Cavoukian was Ontario’s first Privacy Commissioner, appointed in 1997, and served three full terms in the position.

Ontario’s vaccination passport, announced by Premier Doug Ford as a temporary measure to “reduce risk and encourage every last eligible Ontarian to get their shot” has quickly become her worst nightmare: “It is unbelievable to me that we are going through this, and it’s unbelievable to me that so many people are buying into it,” she says.

“Let me be clear, it should never be ‘Privacy versus Public Safety.’ That’s crazy positioning, as though it’s one-versus-the-other, win-lose, either/or.  That’s nonsense. We can have privacy AND safety.”

Cavoukian’s specific fears around Ontario’s vaccine passport system include the geo-location and surveillance abilities associated with the passport’s QR code; the privacy requirements required to handle sensitive medical data; and the possible creep of the entire system into a permanent, social credit-like apparatus from which citizens may never be free.

She believes the passports are a clear infringement on privacy: “Restaurants, concerts, gyms: there’s a link to a physical location and what time you were there. A lot of these places are also asking to see a piece of identification, such as a drivers’ license, so now they also have your home address. It is appalling to me.”

“Everything is in place for this to continue,” Dr. Cavoukian points out.

Cavoukian is particularly appalled at the concept of sharing personal health information with random people who ask for it:

“The privacy associated with medical data is considered to be the most sensitive personal information in existence, and it should be very strongly protected, available to no one other than you and your doctor, or whoever you wish to share it with. Demanding people have a vaccine passport so they can reveal this information to various locations they go to is completely unacceptable. It’s a highly intrusive system.”

(On August 4th, 2021, the office of Ontario’s current Privacy Commissioner published “Using Health Data for the Public Good,” which appears to address few, if any, of Cavoukian’s concerns.)

Asked about possible links between the vaccine passport and Ontario’s new digital drivers’ licenses and health cards, Cavoukian concurs: “That’s what I fear enormously, a surveillance apparatus that will be growing, in my opinion dramatically, unless we really put the brakes on it now.

“Once the pandemic ends, everything is in place for this to continue. What I fear in the long term is that this is not just going to be a short, temporary form of surveillance; it will continue. That’s why we have to eradicate it now, and I’m so glad it’s going to court,” Cavoukian told Road Warrior News, referring to the lawsuit filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom.

While she understands that that government can temporarily forgo the privacy laws in the event of an emergency, “It’s rarely that the measures introduced during these times are really lifted afterwards. Think of the Patriot Act, introduced after 9/11: such measures continue and are rarely eradicated.

“Doug Ford has said on multiple occasions that he would lift these requirements as soon as possible. We have to hold him to account.”