Testing New York’s Excelsior Pass


So what is it like to use?

I signed up for the Excelsior Pass in anticipation of attending my first comedy show in years at Union Hall in Brooklyn. Spoiler: It didn’t go smoothly.

Downloading the app on my iPhone was simple enough. However, like many users, when I tried to become a member of the site, I encountered an error message. many people has been not possible to use the pass for failing to verify their vaccination status. The system works by making use of state immunization records, but database errors can cause problems, especially if there are data entry errors in vaccine fields. A misspelled name or wrong date of birth may mean that the Excelsior system cannot remove your enrollment. So when the pass failed to verify my identity, I followed the suggestions on the error page and pulled out my paper vaccination card to make sure I entered the vaccination site information correctly. After three attempts I re-entered the same information each time, and it worked.

After three attempts I re-entered the same information each time, and it worked.

limited use

While I did find a use for the pass, it was mainly limited to sporting events, gyms, and other high-end entertainment venues – meaning the pool of users was limited. Admission to an expensive concert or basketball game is fine for working-class New Yorkers who have lost their low-paying jobs and become unemployed by rising debt. out of the reach.

This raises concerns about the wise use of resources. The government has spent $2.5 million on the system so far, and under the contract signed with IBM, which developed the platform, cost In a scenario where driver’s license information, proof of age and other data could be added to the pass, anywhere between $10 and $17 million over the next three years.

“This passport program appears to be a continuation of the entire state government and Governor Cuomo’s policies on the pandemic,” says Sumathy Kumar, campaign organizer for Housing Justice for all statewide fighting for tenants. “They just want life back to normal for people with tons of disposable income.”

And if the pass becomes more widely used – for example, if it becomes a requirement to enter job sites or essential stores – this raises questions of privacy.

Experts question security

Users must enter their name, date of birth, zip code and phone number to confirm their vaccination status or covid-19 test results. While the New York State website tells users that Excelsior data is safe and secure, Privacy Policy It says it doesn’t store information sent through the app or use location services to track people’s location. IBM guarantees data is kept confidential and safe using blockchain and encryption technologies.

However, experts claim that the privacy policy is unfortunately inadequate. Executive Director Albert Cahn, Stop Technology Surveillance Project Opposing local and state surveillance (STOP) in New York, points out that businesses use a separate app to screen the pass; when he tested it, he found that a user’s location could potentially be tracked by these browsers. As a result, the comedy club I go to may have a diary of my visits there and any bar I’ve been to later that requires proof of vaccination. Neither the State of New York nor IBM responded to requests for clarification that browsing information may be collected or tracked.

Cahn says the lack of transparency is a problem. “I know less about how Excelsior Pass data is used than the weather app on my phone,” he says. Because the switch is not open source, privacy claims cannot be easily evaluated by third parties or experts.

“If IBM’s proprietary health data standard is met, they could make huge amounts of money… Transparency could threaten any business plan.”

Albert Cahn, STOP

But there is little incentive to be more transparent. While developing Excelsior, IBM Digital Health Card, a system in which customers can sell in customized formats, from state governments to private companies looking to reopen their offices.

“If IBM’s proprietary health data standard is met, they could earn huge sums,” Cahn says. “Transparency can threaten any business plan.”

If the pass is used more widely, privacy and security questions become more pressing. The transition aims to build trust, making people feel comfortable in the crowd, but for many it raises fears about how it could be used against them.

open to surveillance

Many groups have real, well-founded concerns about monitoring and government surveillance. Historical precedent shows that the use of such technologies, even if initially limited, tends to spread with detrimental consequences, particularly in Black and brown communities. For example, anti-terrorism legislation In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the surveillance, detention and deportation of undocumented Muslim and South Asian immigrants expanded.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital civil liberties organization, has taken a strong stance on this issue. opposition vaccination passports. “For the most part, these applications are a waste of time and money,” said EFF engineering director Alexis Hancock. “Governments should really consider the resources they have and allocate them to get the public to a better place after the pandemic, rather than putting people in a position of more paranoia and privacy concerns.”


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