In March 2021, the European Commission released a proposal for the creation of a “Digital Green Certificate,” which will allow EU citizens to travel easier throughout the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the EU Member States agreed on some proposed changes to the proposal, including strengthening of the data privacy provisions. According to the proposal, in order to obtain a Digital Green Certificate, individuals must prove that they have been vaccinated, present a negative test result, or have recently recovered from COVID-19. The proposal allows the issuance of a certificate for all COVID-19 vaccines, which have received an EU-wide marketing authorisation, however only the results of certain in vitro diagnostic tests will be considered valid.
With the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine and the start of easing of social distancing measures, the latest initiative being considered at a national as well as an international level is the introduction of so-called “digital health passports” or “immunity passports,” i.e., a tool to record and share the immune status of an individual whether by virtue of a COVID-19 test result or vaccination record – indeed, it is estimated there are currently more than 70 digital health passports and 14 vaccine passport apps in operation globally. However, the privacy concerns (and indeed the broader ethical implications) of introducing such measures, without the implementation of appropriate safeguards are significant and a current topic of intense debate.
On December 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released a proposed rule (the Proposed Rule) that would make a number of key changes to the Privacy Rule under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (collectively, HIPAA). HHS stated that the Proposed Rule is intended to reduce burdens that may limit or discourage care coordination and case management communications among individuals and HIPAA-covered entities while continuing to protect the privacy of individuals. The proposed changes are designed to lead to increased data access, sharing, and portability and to further HHS’s emphasis on patients’ right of information access, which has been highlighted through a series of enforcement actions in 2020. If enacted as proposed, the amendments would require healthcare providers and electronic health records (EHR) vendors to update policies and disclosures related to information access and perhaps even to redesign certain EHR processes. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Sidley associate Michael R. Roberts is the author of “Mobile Technologies and COVID-19: A Primer on Fighting the Virus with Cell Phones,” an article published in the Fall 2020 issue of Infrastructure, a quarterly publication of the American Bar Association’s Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section. The article was also featured on the American Bar Association’s website homepage.
The article provides a primer on key privacy considerations and issues in order to assist businesses considering whether to develop or use mobile technologies to fight COVID-19. It first outlines the main ways governments and businesses might use mobile technologies to fight the virus and the potential applicability of current laws to these uses. The article then details how those laws might change as legislatures and regulators address the novel privacy and civil liberties issues raised by COVID-19. Finally, the article offers a checklist to capture important data privacy and security legal considerations relevant to the use of mobile technologies to combat COVID-19.
These informal video chats, moderated by Sidley partner Alan Raul, are designed to help fill the COVID-19 induced privacy discussion drought. We look forward to hearing what is on the mind of key data protection and cybersecurity thought leaders from both public and private sectors. Each chat will be relatively brief, leaving some time to address participant questions via our virtual space. Please feel free to suggest any topics you would be interested to hear addressed by contacting email@example.com.