New York deploys COVID-19 passport app built on blockchain

COVID-19 passport

New York City announced earlier this week the deployment of a new COVID-19 passport built on IBM’s blockchain-based health pass technology, as businesses in the U.S. are starting to request proof of vaccination or negative PCR for entry.

The COVID-19 passport app, called Excelsior Pass, is a free and voluntary platform developed in partnership with IBM, which utilizes proven, secure technology to confirm an individual’s recent negative PCR or antigen test result or proof of vaccination to help fast-track the reopening of businesses and event venues in accordance with New York State Department of Health guidelines, a statement by NYC Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

“Similar to a mobile airline boarding pass, individuals will be able to either print out their pass or store it on their smartphones using the Excelsior Pass Wallet app,” the statement noted.

Accordingly, each Pass will have a secure QR code, which participating businesses and venues can scan using a companion app to verify proof of COVID-19 negative test results or proof of vaccination. An individual’s data is always kept secure and confidential.

As part of this initial launch, participating New Yorkers may choose to use Excelsior Pass to verify their COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results as needed to gain entry to major stadiums and arenas, wedding receptions, or catered and other events above the social gathering limit, according to Gov. Cuomo.

Major venues have already announced they will begin utilizing this technology in the coming weeks, including Madison Square Garden in New York City beginning next week and the Times Union Center in Albany. Beginning April 2, Excelsior Pass will expand to smaller arts, entertainment, and event venues.

“New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back COVID, and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure,” Governor Cuomo said.

“The question of ‘public health or the economy’ has always been a false choice — the answer must be both. As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening,” he added.

It is important to note that New York State is the first state in the U.S. to formally launch this technology.

Prior to its launch, two successful pilot demonstrations were held in recent weeks, along with a beta test where thousands of New Yorkers participated in a limited roll out of the technology to provide feedback on user interface and results.

“In choosing a flexible and accessible tool that places security and privacy at its core, the state is modeling for the rest of the country how new, technology-enabled approaches can help safely reinvigorate economies while also striving to protect public health,” Steve LaFleche, General Manager, IBM Public and Federal Markets, said in a joint statement.

Excelsior Pass is built on IBM’s Digital Health Pass solution and is designed to enable the secure verification of health credentials such as test results and vaccination records without the need to share underlying medical and personal information.

The technology is flexible and built to scale, allowing other states to join and help foster a safer, trusted transition to a post-pandemic reality. The pass can also be printed and is complementary to other types of proof that patrons can use, reducing any barriers to usage.

Secure technologies, like blockchain and encryption, are woven throughout Excelsior Pass to help protect the data, making it verifiable and trusted. No private health data is stored or tracked within the apps.

Multiple security systems are in place to ensure the integrity of personal health information.

It is worth mentioning that IBM’s deal with the State of New York is a major boost for the company’s blockchain division, which, according to reports made in February, that IBM had shrunk the department. The company dismissed these reports and continued attempting to land deals, such as the one with Salesforce Inc. to implement its digital health pass; however, the New York deal may pave the way for the company to become the go-to COVID-19 passport provider.