Mickey Mouse or CDC card? Experts concerned NYC vaccine passport is easily tricked

New York City became the first major city in the U.S. to require proof of vaccination for certain indoor activities, which allows New Yorkers to use the city and state's own vaccine apps as acceptable proof. The new rule has sparked criticism over privacy concerns and how prone the city's app is to deception, according to an Aug. 5 NBC News report. 

For the city's Key to NYC Pass program, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that starting Sept. 13, proof of at least one vaccine dose is required to enter or work at select indoor facilities, such as Broadway theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants. Essential shops, such as grocery stores, will remain open regardless of vaccination status.

Acceptable proof of vaccination includes the state's Excelsior Pass. The app, which was developed in partnership with IBM, has been downloaded by at least 2 million New Yorkers. App users have reportedly encountered glitches, and there have been data privacy concerns issued.

If New Yorkers don't want to use the Excelsior Pass, they can use a new app released by the city, NYC COVID Safe. The app offers fewer features than its state counterpart. It stores an image of the vaccine record, which works well for people who were vaccinated outside of the state. However, the report said there are concerns about how the app makes it "remarkably easy to falsify credentials."

Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said in an Aug. 2 podcast with New York Public Radio that NYC COVID Safe will accept any photo as proof of having had a vaccine shot. Mr. Cahn said he uploaded a photo of Mickey Mouse, and it asked him to confirm the image was accurate. Once he said it was, the image was accepted as proof of vaccination. NBC replicated the test by uploading a barbecue restaurant menu, which was accepted as proof of vaccination.

Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mr. de Blasio, said the app is not meant to verify status but to provide a place to save a digital image of one's vaccination record.

"The NYC COVID Safe App was designed with privacy at the top of mind, and allows someone to digitally store their CDC card and identification," she said. "Someone checking vaccination cards at the door to a restaurant or venue would see that those examples are not proper vaccine cards and act accordingly."


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