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New GHA app could be more than just a vaccine passport, Isola says

The Minister for Digital and Financial Services Albert Isola. Pic: Johnny Bugeja

A new app in development that would provide Gibraltarians with digital proof of vaccination could become a multi-use platform for GHA needs, such as booking appointments, the Minister for Digital and Financial Services has said.

The app will allow Gibraltarians to prove vaccinations and store Covid test dates and results, which will aid travelling.

But the Minister for Digital and Financial Services, Albert Isola, told the Chronicle the app could be so much more, and the possibilities could be “exciting.”

Mr Isola said the app could be used to make GHA doctor appointments, allow the GHA to liaise with card holders via messages and could act as a digital version of a GHA card.

“It’s endless what we can do with the app,” he said.

“Let’s make an investment in an app that is multi-use, not just for your Covid vaccination.”

“So we are looking at how we can develop the app which will be able to serve that function but also have abilities to give us far greater use than just a vaccine app.”

He added the GHA is not considering keeping medical records on an app.

“We're not going there yet, that's not a discussion we've had or even begun to contemplate,” he said.

“But there are things like appointments, there are things like the GHA card in digital format on the app.”

“There are many other things which we can do which stop short of that.”

"Just imagine this vaccine program with everyone having a GHA app communicating with people."

“GHA sending you messages knowing it's you because that's your app and your number on it, suddenly you begin to be a lot more efficient in how you can engage with a lot of people very quickly and very easily.”

“I think it gives us possibilities which we’re looking at for the future which could be quite exciting.”

For the vaccine app, Gibraltar will be working with the same team who worked on the BEAT Covid app, which is a contact-tracing app.

Mr Isola said the team that developed the BEAT Covid app also work for the Irish government and, as a consequence of that, have certain relations with the EU.

“They will all come into play I have no doubt that this is going to be on all the major platforms which the different countries will then be plugging into and tapping into like I hope we will be able to do,” Mr Isola said.

“So we will each have our own app and then how that app is used… what else you put onto the system is very much country by country.”

But Gibraltar is one of the first countries to have a high percentage of its population vaccinated.

This means it is treading new territory, well before other countries.

Mr Isola recognised this, adding that in the EU and elsewhere, countries are beginning to look at certification of vaccine apps.

“[Ursula] von der Leyen, the EU Commission head, has already announced they are looking at that now, the UK's already said they're also looking at that, so I imagine the US will be doing similarly, but for them there is not so much of a rush because they're not as far ahead as we are in terms of the numbers being vaccinated,” he said.

“I'm sure in two or three months’ time, when the UK gets to 70% of his vaccination program and the EU probably a little bit longer term, that these discussions will take a different pace but, up until then, their focus is entirely on the vaccine.”

For those without smartphones, whether it is possible to use the vaccination cards elsewhere is yet to be considered.

“We’ve got vaccination cards that we use today, but again, would those be recognised if you flew to the States?”

But when medical cards become digital, it brings up data protection concerns.

The vaccine app will have to identify the person, Mr Isola said, likely using names and an ID card or passport number.

“You could imagine 30,000 people with smartphones with the GHA pumping data into 30,000 smartphones - that's a challenge in terms of the data protection measures we have,” he said.

“But that's the only way it has to be done.”

“At the end of the day, you know, it can't be the tax office putting data on your smartphone about vaccination records.”

“It's going to be very limited and the only people who have access will have to be the GHA.”

“I guess it will have to have your name, will have to have, probably, your ID card or passport number so that somebody that's verifying it from abroad will be able to make sure.”

“You could have three Albert Isolas, so it needs to be with the number that identifies a person, so I think all of those things will be on it here.”

Mr Isola said this would have to be carefully done with security also in mind.

But even the more secure services in the globe can be hacked.

“I don’t think there’s any system in the world that can’t be hacked,” Mr Isola said.

“Bank accounts can be hacked.”

“However, we build these things and we try and build them as strong as you possibly can.”

“Can it be hacked? Of course it can.”

“But that's the benefit of sitting on platforms like Apple and Google, where you use their security infrastructure, their security arrangements and you rely on their expertise to protect the integrity of the data that we have.”

Mr Isola added: “I would be foolhardy to say that this is going to be 100% secure, of course it’s not. Nothing is.”

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