The new vaccine passport and the rise of the fake documents market

The advance of immunization in developed and developing countries brings a hopeful deceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world. As this occurs, it is natural that we observe a favorable movement to the reopening of several economic sectors through the flexibilization of access, with restrictions for national and international displacement. Countries with a large percentage of the population vaccinated are already reopening their borders and also their collective spaces for shops, restaurants, bars, festive and sporting events with little or no restriction on occupation and/or opening hours.

Given the difficulty of a slower reopening, it was expected that the process would be accompanied by measures and requirements that ensure caution and safety. The way found by some countries with high vaccination rates - such as the USA, France, Australia, Israel, among others - to ensure that this movement did not mean a sudden increase in cases, and consequent increase in deaths, was the creation and the obligation of the vaccine passport for entry into collective spaces.

In Brazil, although the documentation adoption has been publicly rejected by the Ministry of Health and more recently also by President Jair Bolsonaro in the opening speech of the UN convention, we have observed that some states such as Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas and São Paulo decreed the obligation of the new documentation. Other states, such as Ceará and Pernambuco, are already working to make it valid as well.

The mandatory nature of the document, however, brings several inherent challenges. It was observed that in countries that made the document mandatory, a new market has emerged and had a sped up growth: fake vaccine passports.

In France, after making digital technology mandatory in July for entry into cultural and leisure spaces, there has been an increase in counterfeiting cases. The same occurred in Brazil, where there was a notable increase in reports of cases of attempted theft of a blank vaccine passport or even illegal sale of documents in front of bars and concert halls.

The problem may still intensify with the movement of the private sector to resume work in person, although there is no clear definition of the ultimate model to be adopted by companies. The resumption of hundreds of companies are forcing employees and customers to show evidence of vaccination with COVID-19 before they enter offices or businesses, which is driving an increase in demand for fake passports and vaccine cards and driving the growth of the parallel market.

Vaccine passports represent exceptional value for a world that has been in confinement for over a year, and this has made the growth of the falsified vaccine document market a growing concern, particularly in countries where denial of efficacy of the vaccine is high.

The document needs to be supported by pillars that allow it to be safe and tamper-proof, and this does not happen in our country. In Brazil, the document is issued for free by local authorities in physical format, and although there has recently been a movement that has also allowed the issuance to be carried out in digital format through official applications and websites, the adhesion expected by the population has not yet been achieved.

Mostly found as a paper record, the current format of the document allows for many changes and manipulations to be made, creating many security breaches. The path chosen by states to develop their own approaches to vaccine passports results in varying patterns across the country. The lack of standardization of information and security parameters between versions inherently adds to a difficulty in verifying the information contained and, sometimes, may make it impossible for the different checking systems to inter-operate.

Creating a credential of this nature and with this importance needs to be orchestrated in order to create a uniqueness of documents and that this new information is securely linked to the citizen’s identification data, at the same time, it needs to ensure that the verification of information are constructed to prioritize data protection and the privacy of the holder, and preferably, prioritize the digital model.

In Brazil, we chose not to follow either path. We will still see the market for fake documents growing, however, this does not show that the document was a bad choice. The document is critical to ensuring a safe return to life after the pandemic.

The rise of this new parallel market will only show us, once again, the ineffectiveness of the Brazilian identification system, the perfect place for markets like this to succeed.

Igor Moraes Gonçalves

Igor Moraes has been working in the digital identity and onboarding sector since 2018. He is currently a Partner at idwall and works as Business Developer Coordinator of MeuID, the first digital identity in Brazil. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UNICAMP, with an extension in innovation and technology from the Universidad de Granada (Spain).