Even in Italy, a health passport is tested via app to travel by plane

Even in Italy, a health passport is tested via app to travel by plane

Experimentation at Fiumicino on the Alitalia Rome-New York section. The Aokpass app now records the result to the swab, in the future the vaccination certificate.

(photo Alberto Pizzolli / Afp / Getty Images) Not even the green light for the first vaccines clears the clouds on the horizon for airlines. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts an average drop in bookings of 80% in February and March compared to the same period last year, when the specter of the Covid-19 pandemic began to close the borders. Yet another minus sign after not even the expected Christmas holidays have given passengers a return on board. “Instead of a relaunch from the holiday period at the end of the year, we have had even more restrictions”, cuts short Alexandre De Juniac, general manager of Iata. And the new travel restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the pandemic do not bode well. Nor is it clear under what conditions it will be possible to return to travel, with a vaccination campaign that will take a long time.

IATA insists on a model that replaces quarantine rapid tests before boarding the aircraft. To be combined with digital certificates to prove your negativity to Covid-19. Or, as the number of vaccinated increases, that they have been immunized. Health credentials, immunity passports or vaccinations have been discussed for some months now as a viaticum to resume traveling. And since 5 January a test has also been underway in Italy, on the Alitalia route that connects Rome to New York.

The test in Fiumicino

In Fiumicino, passengers leaving for the Big Apple undergo a rapid antigen test, as is already the case for other Covid-tested routes (i.e. in which the outcome of the exam replaces self-isolation at destination). The addition is a digital piece: the Aokpass application, developed by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), through which to store the negative test result on the smartphone via a QR code. Upon boarding, the flight attendants scan the code and verify the health credentials of the passengers, who, once landed in New York, have the green light to move without having to undergo a preventive quarantine.

AokPass ago its debut in Italy last January 5, with flight AZ608 from Fiumicino to Jfk. To date, it is the only route served by the application, with three flights a week, but the project, according to Wired's knowledge, plans to expand its use after the test phase.

The app's baptism of air dates back to last December, when it was used on a flight from Japan to Singapore. Aokpass allows you to replace self-isolation (a measure imposed in many countries for those arriving from abroad to verify the onset of Covid-19 symptoms) by giving a digital certification to the traveler's state of health. In particular, explains Arnaud VaissiƩ, president of International Sos, a Singapore health services company and one of the developers of Aokpass, the app aims to "allow the restart of business travel, which is the key to global economic recovery". And those that make the most of the airlines. The forecasts are bleak. A study by Ideaworks, a consulting firm in the aeronautics sector, estimates a contraction of up to 36% in business air travel in 2021. Compared to the previous year, in 2020 only 15% was carried out. Airlines, Iata data, report 118 billion dollars in losses for last year.


How the app works

Not surprisingly behind Aokpass c 'is the International Chamber of Commerce, which represents 45 million companies in 100 countries. The app was developed by the startup of the same name, founded in Singapore by ICC, International Sos and Sgs (Swiss multinational certification company). The team explains that it serves to create "authenticated digital certificates for every health-related purpose."

"Originally this app was created to allow a better organization of travel in those countries where the yellow fever vaccine is required, such as in some countries of Africa and South America", he explains to Wired Andrea Petrini, project manager of the office of the secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce. And he adds: "The pandemic required a rethink of the project, which was already ready last May to be used in recording the results of molecular swabs".

Free for passengers, the app is paid for by airports and by the companies that use it. Wired asked how many users have used it so far, but Aokpass has not provided any data, nor has it specified how much it has invested in the project. The goal of the ICC, after the first tests, is to broaden its use both on a global and national scale. As it is planned to do also in Italy.

For example, Marco Troncone, CEO of Aeroporti di Roma (Adr), the company that manages the airports of the capital, suggests this: "We are convinced that this is the only way to guarantee the best safety of passengers and allow a resumption of air traffic and international connectivity, essential for our country ". The hypothesis, however, comments Petrini, "today is less secure than five days ago, before the government crisis, since we depend on the will and decisions of the ministries involved, from Health to Transport".

The data node

Based on blockchain technology - a decentralized data recording system that guarantees its inalterability - Aokpass keeps the data entered exclusively on the device, which generates a code alphanumeric (hash) that is entered in the block register: in this way the data cannot be consulted remotely but is only used during checks. "The peculiarity of the project is that, concerning several countries and administrations, the app must respond simultaneously to the security requests and checks of all: it is now being examined by the Generalitat de Catalunya and they too are redoing all the checks", Petrini specifies.

Aokpass informs Wired that a specific authorization has not been requested by the Italian Guarantor for the protection of personal data, referring to a generic privacy policy and without specific references to the European regulation (Gdpr).

According to the ordinance of the Ministry of Health authorizing Covid-tested flights (in addition to those to New York, also on the Rome-Atlanta, Munich and Frankfurt routes), issued on 23 November, the responsibility lies with the companies. "Air carriers process the personal and health data of passengers for the sole purpose of allowing the correct operation of Covid-tested flights and the issuance of the reimbursement or voucher at the request of the passenger in compliance with the obligations established by current legislation on processing of personal and health data ", reads.

In this case, however, the data remains on the device - therefore in the possession of the person who inserts it - and the ground assistants simply verify, using the QR code, that the document inserted actually gives the right to boarding. Contacted by Wired, Alitalia referred to Adr for further details, but the latter does not process the data. In any case, the Aokpass app is not presented on any of the organizations' websites. And, reached by Wired, Alitalia's customer service was unable to provide information on the use of the app.

The issue of health passports

In recent months the number of apps designed to store health data useful for traveling has been growing. These include the Swiss Commonpass, which is carrying out tests with Cathay Pacific and United Airlines in London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. O Travelpass, promoted by Iata itself. In recent days, three digital giants such as Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce announced that they are working on developing a technology standard that allows travelers to share their health data through other apps. Today the negative swab, tomorrow the vaccine. According to press sources, the World Health Organization itself is considering the idea of ​​creating an "electronic yellow card" to be provided to all citizens who have received anti-coronavirus treatment. However, a hypothesis preferred to that of the certifications for immunity acquired following the contraction of the virus itself, not recommended by the organization based in Geneva.

On his blog, analyzing the Commonpass case, Guido Scorza, a member of the board of the Italian guarantor, observes that this kind of solution nevertheless raises some regulatory questions. "In order for these passports to be used to distinguish between who has access and who does not have access to a place - public of course - or to a service, a law is needed because the service provider could not, otherwise, process the particular data of its users - writes Scorza -. Of course, in the abstract, he could ask them for their consent but could not then prohibit those who do not give consent which, by its nature must be free, from getting on a plane, just to give an example because otherwise that consent would cease to be free " .

Secondly, this law, "which obviously should respect the European regulations on personal data, could require service providers to provide the service only to vaccinated users only if the processing of personal data underlying this obligation was proportionate to the aim pursued ”, observes the expert. Easy to say for a country that makes the vaccine mandatory, more complicated in one that has an optional regime. And in addition to the regulatory aspects, there are also questions about the scientific validity. Faced with these questions, airlines, airports and governments can no longer back down.

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