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   Vol. 19 No. 43
Wednesday May 27, 2020
Biometrics Like June Busting Out All Over
Biometrics Busting Out All Over

Just as May is ending, biometrics, like the month of June waiting in the wings, is busting out all over.
     Right now, mobile hotel booking app Sidehide and Onfido, a global identity verification and authentication company, said that they are about to test “immunity passport” integration for Sidehide’s hotel booking platform to verify immunity status.

AI Tests Beginning in Miami Hotels

     “Sidehide users,” the company said, “will quickly and easily verify their identity and immunity status with hotels.” Looking down the trail a bit, we can imagine airlines integrating the same kind of system.
     The company said the system, which will enter service soon at a few Miami hotels, will contain information about travelers, including test results for COVID-19 antibodies, in a QR ”Quick Response” barcode to be scanned by hotel staff upon arrival.

The Express Lane

     With just a smartphone and a government-issued ID, users are able to make a booking, verify their identity and immunity status, and go straight to their hotel room, bypassing the check-in desk.
     Sidehide hopes if the test works it might help ease some fears and bring back some people to a badly displaced travel industry.
     Sidehide is a next generation booking platform for digital nomads and hotels that launched in Berlin in early 2020.

Deep Pockets Backing

     Onfido is a global leader in artificial intelligence for identity verification and authentication.
     Backed by TPG Growth, Crane Venture Partners, Salesforce Ventures, and M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, Onfido has raised $200 million in funding and powers digital access for some of the world’s largest companies. Onfido has 400 employees spread across seven countries.
     There are several other companies working on various systems to scan individuals from a distance, assessing your health while you’re attempting to travel on a plane or enter a hotel or business.

Some Questions Raised

     This new wrinkle to our lives, called “immunity passports,” adds not only new language to our vocabulary, it also raises questions.
     The number one question is: what if you have not been able to get screened for COVID-19?
     There are 350 million people in the U.S. and to date only around 20 million have been screened.
     Does that mean unscreened people will be categorized as “second class” or worse, shunned altogether?
     In any case, the intrusiveness of the new technologies could make the round of checks and double checks implemented during the post-911 era “look like a walk in the park,” according to one source.

Some Other Voices

     Medical professionals informed FlyingTypers that patients who contracted and have recovered from COVID-19 are operating in a veil of uncertainty about a possible reprise of the virus.
     “Some of our patients say that they feel like lepers,” said a healthcare worker from Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn, New York.
     “People are unsure of their future, although free of the COVID-19 at this point, nobody really knows for sure if the disease will regenerate itself.”
     The testing is about measuring COVID-19 antibodies.

Out of Body Antibodies Challenge

     One possible worry is that people without antibodies could be shut out from the activities of everyday life, creating a divided landscape of antibody haves and have-nots.
     “The reality is that access to society with [this kind of] certification will likely reflect existing systemic biases, corruption, and discrimination in the system,” Alexandra Phelan, an assistant professor in infectious diseases and law at Georgetown University, told Sue Halpern in a story that appeared in The New Yorker.

Some Unknowns

     So, will immunity passports raise privacy concerns? One possible rub is some insurance policy rates might go up.
     Then there is the fear factor and knee-jerk reactions to the unknown.
     The U.S. reportedly is already talking about disqualifying anyone who has had COVID-19 from serving in the military.

It Happens Every Time

     The New York Times recently listed some other jarring cases of exemptions being taken by everyday people:
     “The veterinarian who refused to treat a recovered woman’s dog. The laundromat worker who jumped at seeing an elected official whose illness had been reported on the local news. The gardener who would not trim the hedges outside a recovered man’s home. The neighbor who dropped off soup, and said not to bother returning the Tupperware.
     “And the sick teenager whose solace during his long illness was the thought of fishing with friends, only to have them ghost him when he recovered,” wrote The Times.

A Way to Bypass Future Lockdowns?

     “Darpa,” The New Yorker writes, “the research arm of the Defense Department, is pursuing a different path.
     “The scientists are developing a method of testing for certain host signatures of gene expression caused by the virus—what is known as epigenetics—to detect the presence of COVID-19 well before there are symptoms.
     “If COVID-19 antibodies do not turn out to be protective, or if the protection they offer is limited, or if societies reject immunity-passport schemes, frequent epigenetic tests may be a way to bypass large-scale lockdowns.”
     “We know there’s a cure out there and we know there’s a diagnostic tool out there,” Darpa said.
     “We know there’s a vaccine out there.
     “You just have to do thorough, rigorous scientific work and only believe your data. “Don’t believe anything else.”

The Push Back

     People seem willing to talk about biometrics but would rather not go on the record.
     “Personally,” a source assures, “I don’t mind sharing key personal data if it helps to expedite my journey.
     “I am already doing that as a registered TSA Pre-check and Global Entry user. The key being that it is my choice to do so.
     “I would frown upon being forced to do so, as I am sure many other Americans would.”

What About Accuracy?

     “What about the reliability of such a test?” another source asked.
     “If it is known 100% that (1) the tests are accurate and (2) if you test positive for COVID-19 antibodies, it is guaranteed that you are not able to contract and carry COVID again, I think such a passport makes sense.
     “It makes sense as long as it is an optional choice and not being forced on everyone.
     “Unfortunately, I don’t believe we are there yet though, as I have heard of numerous cases that prove the tests to be unreliable.”

Be Aware & Hold the Mayo

     Here is a recent report that seems to elevate that thinking:

What About the COVID-19 Double Dip?

     We hear reports that people can contract the virus multiple times.
     Here, a CDC report could raise apprehension of the immunity passport approach at this point in time.
     After reading this, another source raised this point:
     “What use is the passport if it only points to the fact that you have antibodies, but you could still potentially contract the virus again?”

CDC Reports Leave Door Open

     “As of yet,” CDC said, “we are unsure of the nature of human immunity to Coronavirus. “A recently published study in monkeys has demonstrated that they produce antibodies to the virus, that protected them from a second infection a month later.
     “Over the coming weeks, researchers will be studying the antibody levels in the blood of people who have had COVID-19 to understand how strong their immunity is and how long it lasts.
     “If the Coronavirus is like the flu, we should expect to have some protection that will last months, until the strains circulating change substantially.”

In Summary May 27, 2020

     Clearly it is still early days and we have a long way to go before all the COVID-19 facts are gathered and we have clear direction from the experts as to what actually works, what doesn’t, and what the associated risks are if there are grey areas.
     This way we can make informed decisions. Right now, consensus of opinion seems to be that it remains a challenge to make informed decisions, especially when the experts keep changing their positions as facts become known.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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