The idea of adopting a digital health or wellness passport to allow travel to reopen safely is currently a highly debated topic. There are clear positives and negatives, and the future success of digital health passports hinges on finding the proper balance between the sharing of pertinent vaccination and/or testing information and protecting the sensitive data of the traveler – not to mention the legal protection of the traveler’s employer in the business world.

A survey of business travelers recently conducted found that the number one reason for accepting any of the digital health passports being developed and trialed was satisfactory data protection. Health passports carry a digital record of whether travelers have been vaccinated against and/or test for COVID-19. Most countries require a negative COVID-19 test before admitting a traveler, so the benefits of adopting this technology are quite clear.

The potential ramifications of this technology are equally apparent. For example, in Europe, health data is protected under the GDPR regulation and can only be processed with a clear legal reason for doing so. While verifying a travelers COVID-19 vaccination status or test result is certainly beneficial, the potential for data breaches and the liability of responsible parties is causing a tug-of-war with many companies between the privacy risks of using digital health passports and the continued financial risk of not resuming travel in the near term.

If a company were to mandate its employees to adopt and use a digital health passport and a data breach were to occur, exposing their sensitive data to hackers, the company mandating the practice would be liable; however, if an employee simply decides to use a digital health passport voluntarily, that’s another story.

There are several digital passport providers, including the International Chamber of Commerce’s AOKpass and IATA’s Travel Pass; both of which are currently developing and testing their platforms for user-friendliness, scalability, acceptance (by travelers, travel carriers, and governments), and data protection. Several airlines have been using digital health passports on a trial basis for screening their airport employees and aircrew.

As we move further into 2021, one of the industry’s paramount questions – are digital health passports the key to resuming travel worldwide – will undoubtedly be answered.