COVID-19: Travelling to Slovenia with the EU’s Digital Green Certificate

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The EU Commission has recently proposed the use of a special vaccination passport called “Digital Green Certificate” or “Digital Green Pass”, which will help identify people who received the COVID-19 vaccine or have overcome the virus in the last 6 months.

The EU Commission believes that the use of a “Digital Green Certificate” or “Digital Green Pass” will be able to open borders of European countries just in time for the summer travels. However, the system of the Digital Green Certificate or Digital Green Pass is already raising privacy concerns among the residents of the European Union.

What is a “Digital Green Certificate” or “Digital Green Pass”?

The Digital Green Certificate will show proof that the person who is traveling has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has had a PCR negative COVID-19 test or has recovered from the Coronavirus, which means the person has COVID-19 immunity. The EU Commission has proposes that the Digital Green Certificate will be free of charge and will rely on a QR code to ensure security and authenticity of the certificate. The Digital Green Certificate will be available in the national language as well as in English. The Digital Green Passport will be reportedly safe and secure for the use and will be valid in all EU countries.

How to get Digital Green Certificate or Digital Green Pass?

National authorities are in charge of issuing the Digital Green certificate. It could, for example, be issued by hospitals, test centers, health authorities.

The digital version of the Digital Green Certificate or Digital Green Pass can be stored on a mobile device. Citizens can also request a paper version of the Digital Green Certificate. Both will have a QR code that contains essential information, as well as a digital seal to make sure the Digital Green Certificate is authentic.

How will the Digital Green Certificate work?

The Digital Green Certificate contains a QR code with a digital signature to protect it against falsification. When the Digital Green certificate is checked, the QR code is scanned and the signature verified.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonized digital tool to support free movement in the EU. This is a good message in support of recovery. Our key objectives are to offer an easy-to-use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”

Each issuing Digital Green Certificate (e.g. a hospital, a test center, a health authority) has its own digital signature key. All of these are stored in a secure database in each country.

Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, said: “With the Digital Green Certificate, we are taking a European approach to ensure EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with minimum restrictions this summer. The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also a chance to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values like data protection.”

The European Commission will build a gateway. Through this gateway, all Digital Green Certificate signatures can be verified across the EU. The personal data encoded in the certificate does not pass through the gateway, as this is not necessary to verify the digital signature. The  Commission will also help Member States to develop software that authorities can use to check the QR codes.

Key elements of the regulation proposed by the EU Commission for the Digital Green Certificate

  1. Accessible and secure certificates for all EU citizens:
  • The Digital Green Certificate will cover three types of certificates –vaccination certificates, test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test), and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
  • The certificates will be issued in a digital form or on paper. Both will have a QR code that contains necessary key information as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic.
  • The Commission will build a gateway and support Member States to develop software that authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the EU. No personal data of the certificate holders passes through the gateway, or is retained by the verifying Member State.
  • The certificates will be available free of charge and in the official language or languages of the issuing Member State and English.
  1. Non-discrimination:
  • All people – vaccinated and non-vaccinated – should benefit from a Digital Green Certificate when traveling in the EU. To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
  • Same right for travelers with the Digital Green Certificate –where the Member States accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system. This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorization, but the Member States can decide to accept other vaccines in addition.
  • Notification of other measures – if a Member State continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and explain the reasons for such measures.
  1. Only essential information and secure personal data:
  • The certificates will include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery, and a unique identifier of the certificate. This data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates.

What data will the Digital Green Certificate include?

According to the EU Commission, the Digital Green Certificate contains necessary key information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery, and a unique identifier.

The certificates will only include a limited set of information that is necessary. This cannot be retained by visited countries. For verification purposes, only the validity and authenticity of the certificate are checked by verifying who issued and signed it. All health data remains with the Member State that issued a Digital Green Certificate.

How will the Digital Green Certificate help the free movement across the EU countries?

The Digital Green Certificate will be accepted in all EU Member States. It will help to ensure that restrictions currently in place can be lifted in a coordinated manner. When traveling, every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU, who holds a Digital Green Certificate, should be exempted from free movement restrictions in the same way as citizens from the visited Member State.

If a Member State continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and justify this decision.

What does the Digital Green Certificate mean for the air transport industry?

Over the past few months, airlines have been increasingly trialing a number of digital health passports, from the likes of IATA Travel Pass, CommonPass, VeriFly, AOKpass, YOTI, and CLEAR Health Pass, just to name a few. However, in the past couple of weeks, airlines have taken it upon themselves to create their own digital health solutions. Ryanair announced that it is launching a COVID-19 Travel Wallet, while British Airways this week shared plans to trial an app-based digital health passport, allowing customers to upload health documents such as negative PCR tests and vaccination certificates.

The new EU initiative raises some questions about how the Digital Green Pass might align with other industry initiatives, such as the IATA Travel Pass. The Commission has stated that it is working to make sure that the certificates are compatible with systems in third countries outside the EU. The proposal is open to global initiatives and takes into account the ongoing efforts of specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to establish specifications and guidance for using digital technologies for documenting vaccination status.

How to travel to Slovenia or another EU country if the citizens have not yet been vaccinated?

If the citizens who wish to travel won’t be vaccinated yet due to vaccine shortage in the EU, they will be able to travel to Slovenia or any other EU country with the use of the Digital Green Certificate, which should facilitate free movement inside the EU. It will not be a pre-condition to free movement, which is a fundamental right in the EU. The Digital Green Certificate can also prove the results of testing, which is often required under applicable public health restrictions. 

The Digital Green Certificate is an opportunity for Slovenia and the other Member States of the EU to adjust the existing restrictions on public health grounds. We would expect them to take this proof of people’s COVID-19 status into account to facilitate travel. Furthermore, vaccination certificates will be issued to a vaccinated person for any COVID-19 vaccine. When it comes to waiving free movement restrictions, Member States will have to accept vaccination certificates for vaccines that received EU marketing authorization. EU Member States may decide to extend this also to EU travelers that received another shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Source: EU Commission