Public Health or Private Wealth? How Digital Vaccine Passports Pave Way for Unprecedented Surveillance Capitalism
CAPITALISM, 1 Nov 2021
The titans of global capitalism are exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to institute social credit-style digital ID systems across the West.
19 Oct 2021 – The death by starvation of Etwariya Devi, a 67-year-old widow from the rural Indian state of Jharkhand, might have passed without notice had it not been part of a more widespread trend.
Like 1.3 billion of her fellow Indians, Devi had been pushed to enroll in a biometric digital ID system called Aadhaar in order to access public services, including her monthly allotment of 25kg of rice. When her fingerprint failed to register with the shoddy system, Devi was denied her food ration. Throughout the course of the following three months in 2017, she was repeatedly refused food until she succumbed to hunger, alone in her home.
Premani Kumar, a 64-year-old woman also from Jharkhand, met the same demise as Devi, dying of hunger and exhaustion the same year after the Aadhaar system transferred her pension payments to another person without her permission, while cutting off her monthly food rations.
A similarly cruel fate was reserved for Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year-old girl, also from Jharkhand, who reportedly died begging for rice after her family’s ration card was canceled because it had not been linked to their Aadhaar digital ID.
These three heart-rending casualties were among a spate of deaths in rural India in 2017 which came as a direct result of the Aadhaar digital ID system.
With over one billion Indians in its database, Aadhaar is the largest biometric digital ID program ever constructed. Besides serving as a portal to government services, it tracks users’ movements between cities, their employment status, and purchasing records. It is a de facto social credit system that serves as the key entry point for accessing services in India.
Having branded Aadhaar’s creator, fellow billionaire Nandan Nilekani, as a “hero,” initiatives backed by tech oligarch Bill Gates have long sought to bring the “Aadhaar approach to other countries.” With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, Gates and other mavens of the digital ID industry have an unprecedented opportunity to introduce their programs into the wealthy countries of the Global North.
For those yearning for an end to pandemic-related restrictions, credential programs certifying their vaccination against Covid-19 have been marketed as the key to reopening the economy and restoring their personal freedom. But the implementation of immunity passports is also accelerating the establishment of a global digital identity infrastructure.
As the military surveillance firm and NATO contractor Thales recently put it, vaccine passports “are a precursor to digital ID wallets.”
And as the CEO of iProove, a biometric ID company and Homeland Security contractor, emphasized to Forbes, “The evolution of vaccine certificates will actually drive the whole field of digital ID in the future. So, therefore, this is not just about Covid, this is about something even bigger.”
For the national security state, digital immunity passports promise unprecedented control over populations wherever such systems are implemented. Ann Cavoukian, the former privacy commissioner of Ontario, Canada has described the vaccine passport system already active in her province as “a new, inescapable web of surveillance with geolocation data being tracked everywhere.”
For tech oligarchs such Bill Gates and neoliberal institutions such as the World Economic Forum, digital ID and digital currency systems have already enabled the extraction of unbelievable profits in the Global South, where hundreds of millions of people remain “unbanked” and therefore outside the sphere of electronic payments systems.
Now, with grassroots protest building against an exclusionary regime of vaccine passports, the captains of global capitalism are campaigning with more urgency than ever to bring digital ID to the West.
For these elite interests, the digitization of immunity passports represent a critical tool in a long-planned economic and political transformation.
“With no Covid Pass, my wife and I are banished from society”
Across the globe, the certification of vaccination against COVID-19 is already a requirement to participate in daily life.
In Indonesia, COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory, and those who refuse may face fines or be refused access to public services. In Greece, residents must present immunity to work in or enter bars, theaters, and other indoor public spaces.
France has similarly required residents to carry a health pass for access to all restaurants, bars, trains, and any venue accommodating more than 50 people, a decision that has stoked widespread protests throughout the country. The socialist French former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has blasted the new restrictions as “absurd, unfair and authoritarian.”
Les premiers contrôles de #Police ont démarré à titre préventif à #Paris dans les cafés et restaurants où le #PassSanitaire est obligatoire dès aujourd'hui. Verbalisation de 135 euros à partir de la semaine prochaine, jusqu'à 9000 euro en cas de récidive.#Passanitaire #reuters pic.twitter.com/Vvyh75sun3
— Antony Paone (@PaoneAntony) August 9, 2021
Italy has mandated its Green Pass for all workers, threatening them with termination from jobs and suspension of pay. Italy also requires the pass to use Italian public transit. Scenes of private security over-enforcement of the Green Pass and the exclusion of Italy’s elderly from vital services have already begun to go viral on social media.
Italy's Green Pass in action: an old woman is turned away from medical exams at a hospital because she can't produce her mandatory "health" passport. These systems inherently discriminate against members of vulnerable groups and encourage private security overreach, as seen here. https://t.co/Y9Tr12A9jq
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) October 19, 2021
Restrictions for Lithuanians who are not double vaccinated or unable to demonstrate recent prior infection from Covid-19 represent some of the harshest in the world. They are banned from restaurants, all non-essential stores, shopping centers, beauty services, libraries, banks or insurance agencies, universities, inpatient medical care, and train travel.
Gluboco Lietuva, a self-described “Lithuanian father” who has refused vaccination, stated on Twitter: “With no Covid Pass, my wife and I are banished from society. We have no income. Banned from most shopping. Can barely exist.”
Life under the EU’s first strictly-enforced Covid Pass regime covering all society: Lithuania.
Without a Pass, you’re banned: shopping, work, eating out…
This is the future facing countries that impose a Covid Pass: EU, US, UK,Australia,Canada…
Is this the world you want? pic.twitter.com/xdffSPriNO
— Gluboco Lietuva (@gluboco) September 25, 2021
Four out of ten Canadian provinces currently require citizens to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter indoor public venues like restaurants and theaters. All federal public servants and some other workers must be vaccinated to keep their jobs.
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also requires all air travelers and interprovincial train travelers to be vaccinated. Canada’s Alberta province took the measures a step further this September when it announced that those who cannot prove full COVID vaccination will no longer be allowed to socialize indoors in groups of more than 12.
In Israel, meanwhile, only those who have received three doses can work or shop indoors and go to restaurants; citizens who received two shots over six months ago are now considered unvaccinated. This rule has consolidated what even the New York Times has deemed a “two-tier system for the vaccinated and unvaccinated … raising legal, moral and ethical questions.”
In the US, President Joe Biden is “moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever [he] can.” Biden, who declared that his “patience is wearing thin” with unvaccinated Americans, recently announced new federal requirements mandating that about 80 million Americans – including all those who work at companies with more than 100 employees – must either be vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Biden has also mandated that those working at facilities which receive Medicare or Medicaid must show proof of immunity to keep their jobs. According to AP, President Biden is considering proof of immunity for interstate travel, a restriction his former public health advisor, Ezekiel Emanuel, has clamored for.
In the state of Colorado, the UCHealth hospital system has announced that it will not allow organ transplants to be performed on unvaccinated patients, prompting some to travel to Texas for life-saving procedures.
New York City offers a glimpse of the program in store for the rest of the country. The city’s “Key to NYC” requirement, which went into effect September 13, requires proof of vaccination to work at or attend indoor dining, indoor fitness, and entertainment venues like museums, stadiums, arcades, and theaters.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor De Blasio stated. “[New York City] is a miraculous place literally full of wonders … if you’re un-vaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate.”
COVID-related mandates could be permanent
While outlets like CNN have referred to vaccine passports as a “useful, temporary measure,” it is increasingly evident that the proof of immunity restrictions imposed on Western populations may not go away any time soon.
Australia’s New South Wales Ministry of Health Dr. Kerry Chant has stated that citizens “need to get used to being vaccinated with COVID vaccines for the future… it will be a regular cycle of vaccination and revaccination.”
Albert Bourla, CEO of the Pfizer corporation that has seen its stock skyrocket during the pandemic, remarked that the “most likely scenario” is coronavirus vaccine shots mandated on an annual basis.
As a February Nature headline read, “the coronavirus is here to stay.” Or, as Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergency Program, put it: it is “very, very, unlikely” that COVID-19 will ever go away.
“Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “It’s unrealistic.”
“This is our life from now, in waves,” Israel’s Coronavirus Czar, Salman Zarka, acknowledged.
Already, Zarka has prepared plans to mandate a fourth dose for Israelis.
COVID mandates to be digitally enforced
While a state-mandated treadmill of boosters may seem unappealing to many, if not outright hellish, for others the nightmare presents the opportunity of a lifetime. As early as May 2020, only seven weeks after the pandemic was declared, US tech billionaire Bill Gates predicted that “eventually we will have some digital certificates to show who has recovered or been tested recently or when we have a vaccine who has received it.”
Now, over a year later, a growing number of local and national governments require some form of digital proof of vaccination or natural immunity against COVID-19.
Those who want to travel to Canada, for example, are required to download an app that verifies the vaccination status of incoming travelers. The government also plans to introduce a federal, Canada-wide digital vaccine passport in the coming months.
When the European Union (EU) opened up to foreign tourists this summer, it introduced a “Digital COVID Certificate” which granted entry to those vaccinated against COVID-19, those who have had a negative test, or those who recently recovered from an infection. Its proposed “Digital Green Certificate” has been branded as a means to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the pandemic.
The government of France is partnering with a biometric technology company called IDEMIA to “make it easier for its citizens to prove their identity and complete online transactions using a smartphone.” The new app will “enable French citizens to place their national electronic identification cards [introduced to France as a COVID-19 response in August 2021] … on the back of their smartphones and have their identity instantly confirmed.” IDEMIA is also helping France certify travelers immunity data with their Health Travel Pass suite.
The US is still accepting paper vaccination records, and President Biden has insisted no national app is in the works. However, seven U.S. states (California, New York, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii) have already implemented apps certifying vaccination against COVID-19 and have various degrees of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place.
ImmunaBand, a wearable wristband, whose company mission is “to bring the world a little closer in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic and for you to demonstrate to the world your vaccination status,” has also been approved by New York City as proof of vaccination.
“In typical American fashion, the US government is relegating the creation of digital vaccination certifications to the private sector,” stated the non-profit Data & Society.
Indeed, behind the push for digital vaccine passports is a coterie of supra-national neoliberal institutions guided by oligarchic tech industry donors.
Elite corporate interests behind digital COVID passports
Mega-corporations, international finance institutions, and billionaire-backed private foundations have played a vital role in lobbying for and implementing digital immunity passports.
The burgeoning global health passport system has been coordinated under the umbrella of the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO). However, this institution is so intertwined with wealthy private interests it can hardly be characterized as a “public” health body.
As former WHO director Margaret Chan told filmmaker Lilian Franck, “only 30 percent of my budget is predictable funds. The other 70 percent, I have to take a hat and go around the world to beg for money. And when they give us the money, [it] is highly linked to their preferences, what they like.”
Chief among those private funders is the second wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates, and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which happens to be the second largest donor to the WHO.
The Gates Foundation recently helped fund a WHO paper providing “implementation guidance” for proof of vaccination certifications across the world. The authors crafted the paper alongside the Rockefeller Foundation and with guidance from several high-level representatives of the World Bank.
According to Foreign Affairs, “few policy initiatives or normative standards set by the WHO are announced before they have been casually, unofficially vetted by Gates Foundation staff.” Or, as other sources told Politico in 2017, “Gates’ priorities have become the WHO’s.”
Also at the forefront of the shift to digital credentials is the World Economic Forum (WEF). “The Forum is involved in the WHO task force to reflect on those [vaccine credential requirements] standards and think about how they would be used,” reads a May WEF article.
On paper, the WEF (also known as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation) is an NGO and think tank “committed to improving the state of the world.” In reality, it is an international network of some of the wealthiest and most influential people on the planet. The Forum positions itself as the thought leader of global capitalism.
The organization is best known for its annual gathering of the global ruling class. Each year, hedge fund managers, bankers, CEOs, media representatives, and heads of state gather in Davos to “shape global, regional and industry agendas.” As Foreign Affairs put it, “the WEF has no formal authority, but it has become the major forum for elites to discuss policy ideas and priorities.”
In 2017, German economist and WEF founder Klaus Schwab introduced the concept of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” with the title of the book he published that year. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) denotes the current “technological revolution” that is changing the way people “live, work, and relate to one another,” and with implications “unlike anything humankind has experienced,” according to Schwab.
For him, the 4IR is the “merging of the physical, digital and biological worlds.” Schwab has even said that the 4IR will inevitably veer into trans-humanism, or human genome editing.
Klaus Schwab, 2015:
'And you see, the difference of the fourth industrial revolution is, it doesn't change what you are doing, it changes you. If you take genetic editing just as an example, it's you who are changed'#greatreset #thegreatreset pic.twitter.com/IWFJoqrVkG
— Ole Ó'Súilleabháin 🇮🇪:🇯🇲 (@OlisGud) September 6, 2021
In January 2021, several WEF partners, including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, and several other “heavyweights,” announced a partnership to launch the Vaccine Credential Initiative (VCI) to develop digital immunization authentication tools, according to Forbes.
Aiming to institute a single “SMART Health Card” for the world, the VCI intends for its SMART Health Cards to be recognized “across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries.”
In the US, some states are already deploying the SMART Health Cards developed by the VCI. These SMART Health Cards have laid the basis for a de-facto national standard for vaccine credentials.
“If enough states embrace the technology, it could become a de facto nationwide standard and relieve the Biden administration of having to lay out federal requirements for domestic purposes,” Politico noted.
SMART Health Cards have emerged as a de facto national standard for vaccine credentials. JP Pollak, co-founder of @commons_prjct predicts these credentials will be available to 100M+ Americans within a month. Via @HiawathaBray at @BostonGlobe https://t.co/wnkdv88AAE pic.twitter.com/xz5vEU03jW
— The Commons Project Foundation (@commons_prjct) August 9, 2021
The latest version of Apple’s iOS, iOS 15, even includes SMART Health Card support.
As of today, those who received a vaccine in California, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, Virginia, or certain counties in Maryland can obtain a SMART Health Card from the state.
In most other states, a SMART Health Card is available to those who were vaccinated at one of more than 17,100 CVS, Walgreen’s, or Rite Aid pharmacy chains nationwide.
“More states, pharmacies, and health systems will begin issuing SMART Health Cards very soon,” promises the site of the Commons Project, one of the founders of the VCI initiative.
Commons Project CEO Paul Meyer happens to be a WEF “young leader.”
In India, tech oligarchs use digital ID to force social credit on rural poor, spawning exclusion and even death
In 2015, The Gates Foundation provided seed money to a Yale School of Public Health project that would become known as Khushi Baby. Now a non-profit, Khushi Baby makes microchip-equipped necklaces for a child to wear at all times to track their vaccination status and establish continuous monitoring from their first immunizations through adulthood. The non-profit says it is now using data from over 35,000 villages in India to create algorithms that “predict health outcomes for mothers and children.”
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including best-selling Republican Gomorrah, Goliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery. He has produced print articles for an array of publications, many video reports, and several documentaries, including Killing Gaza. Blumenthal founded The Grayzone in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.
Jeremy Loffredo is a journalist based in Washington, DC. He has worked on various independent documentaries in New York and formerly produced news programs at RT America. He is currently producing an independent documentary on the Green New Deal.
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