New York is testing a blockchain-based COVID passport in preparation for expanding residents’ safe access to venues.
Developed in partnership with IBM, the Excelsior Pass will confirm an individual's vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test through a confidential data transfer. First, an issuing organization generates a verifiable credential -- such as a negative test result or proof of vaccination -- and sends it to the individual who loads it into their phone. That secure credential, which is displayed as a QR code, can be either printed out or stored in the Excelsior Pass' wallet app. It can then be verified at venues using the companion scanning app the same way boarding passes are scanned at airports.
The technology was successfully tested Feb. 27 at the Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center and will also be evaluated March 2 at the New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. In both cases, all staff and spectators must have received a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event, per state reopening guidelines. A subset of the attendees will use the Excelsior Pass to confirm their recent negative test to gain entry to the events.
“Robust privacy protections are woven throughout the digital health pass solution,” state officials said in the announcement. “User data is always kept completely confidential, and participation is voluntary. The QR code only informs the venue if a pass is valid or invalid.”
The Excelsior Pass and the complementary verification app are built on IBM's Digital Health Pass solution. Using blockchain technology, individuals can share their COVID health status through the encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone without revealing any medical and personal information. The technology is flexible and built to scale, officials said, so other states can use it to “help foster a safer, trusted transition to a post-pandemic reality.”
"As we begin reopening the valves on different sectors of our economy, we are putting guidelines in place to ensure individuals attending events involving larger gatherings have tested negative for COVID or have been vaccinated to avoid an outbreak of the virus,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way, allowing us to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal."
The results of the pilot program will be used to enhance the quality of the application, before it is submitted to the Apple and Google app stores.