Quietly, with very little fanfare, Louisiana got vaccine passports right. 


What's not to like?

First off, let's take a peek at their guiding principles:


These principles look a lot like what Jeffrey Zients was hinting at when asked at a White House press briefing about vaccine passports:

Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.

I love that they're building on existing infrastructure - digital drivers licenses. When one person scans another person's DDL, they instantly pull up the person's photo from the state's DMV. That all but eliminates the need for forgery.

It's completely optional - no mandates as to exactly how the credential is to be used. Louisiana trusts its citizens to figure out how best to use it. 

A smartphone isn't necessary. The person doing the verification simply needs to scan the barcode on the back of the license. That pulls up the person's official DMV photo, along with their vaccination status, if the cardholder has opted to disclose this..

Sure - it requires a drivers license. But so far every passport requires auxiliary forms of ID.  Otherwise, people can just pass QR codes to one another. Verifiers end up having to check multiple documents. Interrupted workflows are known to be far more error prone and tiring ("alert fatigue").

And sure, the app costs money (unlike the Excelsior pass). But it's a modest $5.99 and the app both stores your card and verifies other cards. It's "peer to peer." The money is used in part to pay for necessary enforcement (inevitably that means undercover operations). 

I'm not sure what it was that put Louisiana at the forefront of digital driver's licenses, but I have some guesses. New Orleans is home to Mardi Gras, so perhaps underage drinking is a common problem. There have been more than a few serious hurricanes - so the state has an interest in digitizing as much as possible, since maintaining paper records can be difficult during floods. Louisiana is far from the most populous state, so it's not as risky to experiment. Whatever the reason - kudos to Louisiana. The rest of us should be taking notes. 

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What's not to like?

The fact that the system both needs access to a phone and to a driver license makes it discriminatory against people who lack one of those. 

Also, there is no possible revocable/online identity or characteristic verification that doesn't ALSO leak the fact that identity was verified by a given device.  Either the barcode is forgeable/copyable, OR the verifier makes a server call to get cross-validating data (like a photo).  

The fact that my rogue-AI dealer verified my vaccination status probably isn't legally usable against me, but I'd still rather it not be known or knowable.

I can kinda live with the server call and attendant leakiness.

Honestly, I'm still "vaccine passport agnostic" but if you're going to do it in a way that's reasonably easy to enforce, Louisiana has it about right.

I should have disclosed: I currently lean toward "vaccine passports are impossible to do well enough to pass a cost/benefit test".  This is a fairly weak belief, and I haven't really come to grips with different vaccination rates and behaviors in different regions (I live in Seattle, and pretty much my entire 2nd-degree acquaintanceship is vaccinated or has an appointment to be (or is lying about it!)).

I'd be OK with a fairly easy-to-forge document with a penalty for forgery - that's low-cost and low/medium benefit.  More intrusive mechanisms ramp up in cost (in money and unreasonable discrimination and undue invasion of privacy) much faster than in value.

I was talking to my brother last night and we agreed that there's a chance we might get vaccine passports right just in time for the next pandemic.

Edited my post.