As the epidemic has spread around the world, one of the topics frequently discussed recently is digital pandemic certificates. In order to bring down the level of contamination, the issue of digital monitoring of infected persons is examined ethically and morally.
We read practices that some states, such as Israel, South Korea,, track citizens’ contacts with infected persons or regions over GSM signals, claiming to do this by observing “privacy” criteria. In our country, even if they are not within the same scope, we see that warning SMS messages are sent to citizens if they move away from their own residence areas.
Some, who believe that it is only a matter of time before the states deviate from these “supervised surveillance” carried out to keep the general health conditions under control and evolves into policies and tools that will keep its citizens under observation at all times, are concerned that the result of these surveillance will be imposing a police-state practice that will lead to interference with fundamental rights and freedoms
One of the actors who has been the focus of those discussions is Bill Gates, who resigned his board memberships at Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaways last month, explaining that he and his wife wanted to focus entirely on the foundation they run.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on hunger and hygiene problems in poor countries, especially in Africa, and works to reduce the deaths associated with diphtheria and diarrhea. It is also carrying out research to promote treatments and vaccines for diseases such as malaria, polio and smallpox. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, what measures should be taken by the states in order to prevent epidemics, as well as what work was being done by the foundation focusing on these issues, was expressed by Gates in many occasions, such as his TedX speech in 2015 after the Ebola outbreak.
Currently, the main priority for the foundation is to provide support to groups engaged in diagnosis, treatment and vaccination studies for Covid-19. Bill Gates, along with his wife, donated USD 100 million to the foundation in February to be used for this purpose only, as he mentioned on a Reddit AMA forum he attended last month. At the same forum, Gates also expressed his concerns that countries may need to loosen measures to revive their economies, which have stalled due to quarantine and curfews, and that the pace of the epidemic cannot be controlled, especially in developing countries, as a result of mandatory partial restrictions. For this purpose, first of all, it is necessary to develop test kits that can be easily applied in people’s homes or kiosks that will be installed widely. In addition, he advocates the necessity of creating a kind of pandemic certificate by digitizing the test results. In this way, people who have been infected, healed or not exposed to the infection can be monitored and prevented from coming into contact with patients with positive test results, indicating that the progress of the disease is critical. He thinks that the vaccine may be ready by the end of 18 months if all goes well, but given that it will take longer to reach the masses, this certificate application, along with the social distancing, will also have a positive effect in terms of economic impact.
So what are the reasons why some of these efforts, which are being made for a very high purpose, should be viewed with suspicion?
Considering the surprising similarities between the scenario he drew in his TedX speech in 2015 and what happens today, the foundation’s efforts on vaccine studies to prevent epidemic diseases, the efforts to track people with digital vaccine certificates by recording the vaccine results, and the ID2020 project all together brought up the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates had a role in the occurrence of this epidemic. Although it is not included in the certificates, in any work of the foundation, or in the scope of the ID2020 Alliance programs, there are also theories that the purpose of these formations is to follow people through chips to be placed under their skin.
What is this ID2020 Alliance? Its founders included Accenture, Gavi Vaccine Alliance, Microsoft, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The aim is to create a digital identity for people who have no legal identity due to various impossibilities, and thus are deprived of basic rights such as health care, housing, education, voting. The project is working on developing solutions for a self-managed, open source and blockchain based digital identity supported by biometric data and one of the partners as mentioned above is the GAVI Vaccine Alliance.Founded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Unicef and several international aid organizations, Gavi is a nonprofit organization that aims to deliver vaccines to children.
Gates emerge from under every stone, which causes people to rightly have question marks in their heads. The purpose of this article is neither Gates’ advocacy nor put forward arguments to support conspiracy theories, but to explain that with the opportunities that technology now provides us with, results-oriented solutions can also be developed against all these tabloid, absurd and paranoid approaches. The ID2020 Alliance is just one of the organizations working on the identity issue. Along with digital identity, the fact that privacy and the protection of personal data, which is the most important issue currently, is one of the needs that blockchain and distributed technologies are trying to solve.
In the absence of these technologies, states can make the monitoring and tracking solutions built on existing central systems secretly or publicly without the consent of the person, which I mentioned at the beginning of the article. For this reason, it is important to adapt the emerging technologies to the public quickly, to establish working groups based on public-private cooperation under technological and sectoral titles, and to enable solutions to be developed by the consortia to be directed by these groups in terms of both regulatory, material and working environment.
First of all, the regulation of the health and pharmaceutical records is critical in terms of combating the epidemic and keeping the second wave effect low. On the basis of the privacy of the patient’s identity, health data records should be encrypted over anonymous identities, transferred to the distributed database and designed to be self-sovereign. Recently, the Covid Credentials Initiative has been established, trying to implement a structure similar to the certificate that Bill Gates advocated above. The initiative, established with more than 60 stakeholders, consisting of states, large technology companies and start-ups, aims to develop an infrastructure that provides verifiable credential solutions to stop the spread of Covid19. Essentially, the program is a digital passport that provides proof that the test results are negative after individuals have recovered, that the tests for the antibody are positive or that they have been vaccinated (after release), to be verified from other sources. The ultimate goal is to strengthen mass immunity to accelerate the return to normal life. One of the indispensable components of the project is a self-sovereign digital identity setup developed in the focus of data privacy.
Given that the most critical issue now is the lack of access to recovered patient information for the supply of plasma required for the treatment of covid19 patients, similar infrastructures need to be expanded urgently. For this reason, I think it is a human duty to put aside the tabloids, conspiracy theories and take action for solidarity in projects that work for the good of the people.
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