Tech

Trying the New York Excelsior Pass

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So how is it used?

In anticipation of participating in my first comedy show in years, at Union Hall in Brooklyn, I registered for the Excelsior Pass. Spoiler: It didn’t go well.

Downloading the app to my iPhone was pretty simple. But like many users, I was greeted with an error message when I tried to register myself on the website. Many people has been incapaci use the step because they cannot verify their vaccination status. The system works by exploiting state immunization records, but database errors can cause problems, especially if there were data entry errors at vaccination sites. An incorrectly spelled name or a wrong date of birth can mean that the Excelsior system cannot break your record. So when the step couldn’t verify my identity, I followed the suggestions on the error page and scanned my paper vaccination card to make sure I entered the vaccination site information correctly. After three attempts, in which I entered the same information each time, it worked.

After three attempts, in which I entered the same information each time, it worked.

Limited use

Although I found a use for the pass, it was essentially limited to sporting events, gyms, and other high-end recreation venues – which means the user group is limited. For working-class New Yorkers who have lost low-wage jobs and remain unemployed in the face of rising debt, admission to an expensive concert or a basketball game is fine. out of of to arrive.

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

“This passport program feels like a continuation of all the state government and Governor Cuomo policies around the pandemic,” says Sumathy Kumar, campaign organizer in Housing Justice for All, a state coalition. of organizations fighting for tenants. “They just want life to return to normal for people with tons of disposable income.”

And if the step gets a more widespread use – becoming a requirement to access essential work or business sites, for example – that raises questions about privacy.

Experts question security

Users must enter their name, date of birth, zip code and telephone number to verify their vaccination status or the results of covid-19 tests. The New York State website tells users that Excelsior data is safe and secure, while the privacy policy says it does not keep track of information sent via the app, or uses location services to track people’s location. IBM assures users whose data is kept private and sure using blockchain and encryption technologies.

But experts say the privacy policy is sadly inadequate. Albert Cahn, executive director of the Technology Stop Supervision Technology (STOP), which opposes local and state surveillance in New York, notes that companies use a separate app to scan the pass; when he tested it, he found that a user’s situation could be tracked by those scanners. As a result, the comedy club where I want to could have a record of my visits here – and in all the bars I go to after they need a vaccination test. Neither New York State nor IBM responded to questions to clarify whether the scan information could be collected or tracked.

Lack of transparency is a problem, says Cahn. “I have less information on how to use Excelsior Pass data than my phone’s weather app,” he says. Because the pass is not open source, its privacy claims cannot be easily evaluated by third parties or experts.

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

Albert Cahn, STOP

But there is little incentive to be more transparent. In the development of Excelsior, IBM used its existing one Digital Health Step, a system that could sell in personalized form to customers from state governments to private companies seeking to reopen their offices.

“If IBM’s patented health data standard is met, they could make huge sums of money,” says Cahn. “Transparency can threaten their entire business plan.”

Privacy and security issues become more urgent if the pass becomes more widely used. The move is intended to build trust, allowing people to feel comfortable in crowds, yet for many it evokes rather fears of how it might be used against them.

Vulnerable to vigilance

Many groups have genuine concerns, based on government monitoring and surveillance. Previous history shows that the use of such technologies, although initially limited, tends to spread, with particularly harmful results in black and brown communities. For example, anti-terrorist legislation in the weeks following the September 11 attacks, it has extended the surveillance, detention and deportation of undocumented Muslim immigrants and those from South Asia.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital organization for civil liberties, has taken a strong position in opposition to vaccinated passports. “Especially these apps are a waste of time and money,” said Alexis Hancock, EFF’s director of engineering. “Governments need to consider the resources they have put in place and allocate them to get the public into a better place after the pandemic, without putting people in a more paranoid situation and privacy concerns.”


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