Digital Debates

The Online Debate from a Civil Society Perspective

Digital Debate 5: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Digital Vaccination Certificates for Safe Travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the travel industry to a standstill. Family and business travel has been severely impacted. Long-distance and cross-border tourism has rescinded. But there is good news coming: everybody wants to travel and digital vaccination certificates will, at least in North America and Western Europe, restart the travel season soon.


Hosted by Barb Iverson, the 5th Digital Debate discussed the pros and cons of digital vaccination certificates, the opportunities and risks.  In doing so, we remembered an ancient tale and poem, made famous by Walt Disney’s movie Fantasia, about an old sorcerer leaving his apprentice in charge of his workshop. The apprentice has to fetch water but enchants a broom to do the work for him, using magic in which he is yet not fully trained. Then hell breaks loose, the floor is awash with floods of water, and the apprentice realises that he cannot control nor stop the broom because he does not know the magic required to do so. He exclaims: “Spirits that I’ve cited, My commands ignore!”.

Having this old tale in mind, the panel looked at whether digital COVID-19 Vaccine Certificates are the magical solution to relaunch international mobility. Rights advocates might argue favourably since the new certificate will promote freedom of movement on a global scale. But even at home, if a certificate is good enough abroad, it might give us our rights back as long as we can proof that we have been tested, vaccinated, or recovered from a COVID-19 infection.

But what if the magical bullet is risky and the spirits we have cited cannot be controlled? Is it right to assume that everybody will benefit from it since there will be universal access to vaccination and digital services? Tourism has been for a long time one-directional: North visits South. Is the digital travel certificate going to reinforce that trend or will the tourism industry in the global South be shut down altogether? There is reason to believe that each new variant of the virus, in particular in areas with a low vaccination coverage, will be followed by revised travel regulations impacting in particular the global South. Surveillance on the internet is not a new concern but what are the chances to be tracked in the future for public health reasons? And finally, what kind of precedent will the COVID-19 Travel Vaccine Certificates establish: will there be a creeping effect whereby other health related information and pathologies are added to the certificate, such as diabetes, cardiological issues, HIV status, etc. and what they will be used for if not for travel?

Other issues weren’t listed but then the spirit came in different forms and shapes…

1 July 2021, 16:00 hrs. CEST 


Digital Debates: Event Series

Every month, this event series will provide inspiring discussions for the civil society sector based on the constant change that digitalisation brings to our societies. Each debate will be a call to action for CSOs to take a more active role in shaping our digital future.

Barbara Iverson will moderate each debate. She teaches Interpersonal Skills and Intercultural Management at the CODE University of Applied Sciences in Berlin.

Digital Debate Panellists

  • Astha Kapoor
  • Co-Founder and Director, AAPTI Institute, India
  • Bio
  • Rémi Tell
  • Co-Founder and Director, Peuple Libre, France
  • Dakota Gruener
  • E.D. at ID2020, Digital and Blockchain Specialist, USA
  • Bio
  • Baba Aye
  • Health and Social Services Officer at Public Services International, France
  • Bio

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Further Reading

The Tale of two Lounges: International Mobility in post-Covid Times

How to fight exclusion by design and default and, rather, maintain the rights of those with limited or no access to vaccination, health and digital resources to public life, education, livelihoods and other socio-economic opportunities? Are vaccine passports really the answer to international mobility in post-Covid19 times ?This blog post touches upon the topic of international mobility in post-Covid times, raising some important questions around vaccine passports and their restrictive consequences for countries with low vaccination coverage and deficient digital infrastructure.


EU Digital COVID Certificate

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will facilitate safe free movement of citizens in the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. The certificate will be introduced in EU Member States. Countries can start issuing and using it already and it will become available in all EU Member States as of 1 July 2021.


Immunity Certificates: If we must have them, we must do it right

This paper outlines key technical and governance considerations necessary for a robust, privacy-pro- tecting credentialing system, and discusses the risks of such programs. The paper also endeavors to sketch out the necessary rate of adoption and the likely ecosystem of partners required for successful implementation of immunity certificates. Finally, it offers a roadmap and call to action for policymakers (with a focus on North America and Europe) and to the technology community to align on standards to ensure we do not end up with fragmented implementations that fall short of meeting achievable, and essential, goals.


Most COVAX Vaccine Recipients Excluded From New EU COVID ‘Green Pass’ – Thanks to Unapproved AstraZeneca Jab

The much-trumpeted European Union COVID Digital Green Pass, which launches 1 July and is meant to vastly ease travel to Europe for vaccinated and recovered passengers is being rolled out with one important hitch. Anyone vaccinated with an AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India would not be qualified to get the pass – and that includes most citizens of low- and middle-income countries who were immunised with vaccines distributed by the WHO co-sponsored COVAX initiative.