Free Speech

Vaccine Passports and Supply Chain Political Blacklist Risk

|

I'm not in principle opposed to "vaccine passports," in the sense of reliable mechanisms of showing that you have been vaccinated (against COVID or against future diseases). That is especially so if they are used by private businesses, such as bars or stadiums or cruise ships, which want to reopen relatively safely, and in a way that assures patrons that they are relatively safe. (Since the vaccines aren't perfectly reliable, even vaccinated patrons might reasonably prefer close gatherings only with people who have been vaccinated.) But I think they would make sense for some government functions as well; for more on why I think such requirements are permissible even from a libertarianish perspective, see my Libertarianism and Communicable Disease post.

Still, the devil is in the details. Some involve substantive judgments: For instance, how would the vaccine passports deal with people who have good medical reasons not to get vaccinated? Others involve judgments about how best to minimize the risk that sensitive medical information will get hacked, or that the infrastructure will be too easily adapted for future improper uses (depending of course on which uses one thinks might be improper).

But there's also the supply chain political blacklist risk I discussed in a post earlier this morning. Say a venue (a meeting hall, a hotel, a university) starts using a passport that's supplied by some tech company, and that tech company then decides—whether because of its managers' or employees' ideological views, or because of pressure from other customers or suppliers—that it will stop serving venues that host "extremist" or "hateful" or "pro-insurrectionist" or anti-"anti-racist" events. Or say that the company decides to stop serving passport-holders who have attended such nefarious events; they reject such evil ideas, the company would say, and they don't want their technology to be used to spread such ideas.

What started out as just a health and safety decision by the venue, or by the government if it is requiring certain venues to check the vaccine passports, will have turned into extra private company control over what people can say and hear. Such control might be perfectly legal; I'm not claiming otherwise. But people (whether venue owners or customers or advocates or government officials) deciding whether to adopt such passports, and whether to support such passports, might want to try to prevent this up front. They might, for instance,

  • oppose the passports unless the passport system is set up in some distributed way that isn't subject to the power of one or a few companies,
  • oppose the passports unless there are binding contractual promises by the companies that they will provide passport services to all prospective venues and to all prospective holders, or
  • call for common-carrier-like legislation so mandating, though there can of course be libertarian and pragmatic objections to such regulation.

In any event, I think the events of recent months and years should remind us to consider supply chain political blacklist risk, just as we consider technological security risks, mission creep risks, and other such concerns.

NEXT: Amicus Brief in the Student Speech Case

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. How does this not become a Soviet-style “internal passport”?

    Although, it would end the debate about voter IDs…

    No, I don’t like this. Not at all.
    It’s a very slippery slope that very quickly could, in the era of electronic medical records, become expanded to a lot of things.
    How about bars (or cruise ships) demanding to know if you have a STD — it *would* help control what currently is a pandemic in some of them.

    1. “Although, it would end the debate about voter IDs…”

      No, it really wouldn’t. You need ID to do virtually anything from renting a DVD to buying cold medicine, from getting a post office box to flying commercially. Requiring it to vote is, however, considered racist. Adding one more thing to the former list will not change the claims against the latter.

      1. ” You need ID to do virtually anything from renting a DVD”

        You don’t need an ID to rent a DVD. I’m guessing you haven’t rented a DVD in a while.
        Nor do you need ID to buy cold medicine, unless the medicine you want to buy happens to also be a predecessor chemical for methamphetamine production.

        ” Requiring it to vote is, however, considered racist.”

        That’s because the racists came up with the idea of disenfranchising people who don’t vote for their preferred party by requiring something they may not have to be allowed to cast a vote.
        There’s nothing racist about requiring a photo ID to cast a ballot, IF the state provides a photo ID suitable for this purpose at no cost to the voter. If the state charges money for something in order to allow a person to vote, that’s a poll tax. Poll taxes are not allowed.

        1. “Nor do you need ID to buy cold medicine, unless the medicine you want to buy happens to also be a predecessor chemical for methamphetamine production.”

          Perhaps he should have qualified that, as “cold medicine that isn’t basically just a placebo”.

          1. He could have, but then he’d have been rightfully challenged on such a bold and provably wrong statement.

            1. A placebo-controlled study of the nasal decongestant effect of phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine in the Vienna Challenge Chamber

              “Results: <b<Phenylephrine was not significantly different from placebo [My emphasis.] in the primary end point, mean change in nasal congestion score at more than 6 hours (P = .56), whereas pseudoephedrine was significantly more effective than both placebo (P < .01) and phenylephrine (P = .01). Phase 1 results showed a difference between phenylephrine and placebo that was 64% of the difference between pseudoephedrine and placebo, substantially greater than the 17% difference observed for all phases."

              Phenylephrine, the 'decongestant' you can get without going to the pharmacist and signing a log, is barely more than a placebo.

              1. “Phenylephrine, the ‘decongestant’ you can get without going to the pharmacist and signing a log, is barely more than a placebo.”

                And the “cold and allergy” aisle at the CVS doesn’t have anything else in it.

        2. Yet the opposition to voter ID laws came loud even when the state in question was providing photo IDs suitable for voting (in that state) at no cost to the voter. The people claiming “discrimination” kept moving the goalposts.

          1. “Yet the opposition to voter ID laws came loud even when the state in question was providing photo IDs suitable for voting (in that state) at no cost to the voter.”

            No cost in money or effort?

      2. I literally have not shown my ID to any person in years.

        I’ve worked the same job for years. I’ve had the same insurance and doctor for years. The people at the liquor store know me and/or realize how old I am by appearance.

        And I’m a relatively young person! Imagine elderly shut ins.

        The paucity of knowledge conservatives have about people in different situations than themselves when talking about voter ID is one thing, the paucity of *imagination* is another. Motivated reasoning though goes a long, long way.

        1. Personal experiences count for little.

          Most other people have different experiences.

          Sell property or get a mortgage, notary is going to need to se ID.

          Target scans ID every sale of beer or wine.

          Buy allergy or cold medicine that contains certain things, need ID. Ohio tracks those scans and you cannot buy more than the permitted amount.

          Enter a building that requires a passcard to access the elevators, the security desk will require ID to give you a temp pass.

          Just a view examples.

          1. Poor people aren’t often selling things like property or applying for a mortgage.

            Target scans IDs but the corner market often doesn’t. And again, this is an example that involves financial transactions for “luxury” items that the poor might not be able to afford. Don’t think Target, think Dollar General or even local swap meet. Think no credit and likely no bank account. Probably no car, either.

            17 million Americans live in deep poverty which roughly equates to $12K a year or less in income.

            You’ve made the Queen’s point for her.

            1. They may not be selling property or applying for mortgages but they’re probably renting property – which requires showing ID in most states.

              If the corner market is not scanning IDs for beer, wine and cigarettes, 1) they’re breaking the law and 2) they will eventually get found and fined back into compliance.

              More to the point, even those living in deep poverty regularly buy or sell things that require IDs. They are, for example, the primary target market for pawn shops – where IDs are required for pretty much any transaction. For someone claiming to represent the interests of the poor, you display a significant ignorance about how they actually live their lives. And an astonishingly patronizing attitude.

              1. “If the corner market is not scanning IDs for beer, wine and cigarettes, 1) they’re breaking the law and 2) they will eventually get found and fined back into compliance.”

                That’s a stupid claim.

                I haven’t been carded in 30 years. Coincidentally, I’ve looked like I was older than 25 since I was older than 25. When they test whether stores are selling alcohol to minors, they send in minors who look like minors who use their own ID showing that they are minors. On the other hand, it is not illegal to sell alcohol to a person who is not a minor.

          2. “Target scans ID every sale of beer or wine.”

            Chain retailers do not scan identification cards for every alcohol beverage sale because they wish to confirm the identity of the purchaser.

            They scan identification cards to collect information they can sell and use for other purposes.

            1. Cite? Scanning of ID is a defense against charges of selling to underage purchasers.

              1. I work in this field. The defense you mention customarily involves reasonable examination, not scanning. That defense is irrelevant in the context of sale to a 75-year-old customer.

              2. ” Scanning of ID is a defense against charges of selling to underage purchasers.”

                Not a very good one, any more than checking ID is a defense to statutory rape.

                1. It can be a strong — and in some circumstances the sole available — defense. Reasonable examination of a qualified form of identification, coupled with comprehensive reasonable conduct and in some cases procurement of a signature from the purchaser, can constitute an effective defense for someone whose customer was underage.

                  1. If you furnish alcohol to a minor, the court isn’t going to care why you thought giving alcohol to a minor was a good idea.

        2. “The people at the liquor store know me and/or realize how old I am by appearance….The paucity of knowledge conservatives have about people in different situations than themselves'”

          Washington state requires bartenders to check ID regardless of a patron’s apparent age or indeed any personal knowledge about said patron. A bartender of my acquaintance was cited for not carding her father.

          1. Washington state law does not require bartenders to check identification, particularly with respect to customers who clearly appear to be old enough to purchase alcohol. You may be remembering a house policy; state-approved training in Washington expressly states that not every customer’s identification must be reviewed — let alone scanned — before sale of alcohol beverages.

    2. “it would end the debate about voter IDs…

      No, I don’t like this. Not at all.”

      Why don’t you like ending the debate about voter ID, Ed?

    3. “How does this not become a Soviet-style ‘internal passport’?”

      Well, for one thing, we aren’t Soviets.

      1. And for another, there are already lots of businesses that ask for some form of ID or sometimes a credit card if you want to conduct certain sorts of business.

    4. “How does this not become a Soviet-style “internal passport”?”

      Because some people are not mired in not mired in hyperbole as reality and understand the idea of distinctions based on degrees?

    5. Bingo. Vaccine passports and other requirements are not compatible at all with libertarianism. They are authoritarian policies.

      1. Allowing people to have information to make their own decisions about who to associate with (and who to avoid) is authoritarian? That’s some first-rate rationalization.

  2. One cannot support a vaccine passport system and regard oneself as a libertarian. That is the very quintessence of cognitive dissonance.

    1. Perhaps my cognitive powers exceed yours, and the fact that YOU can’t do something doesn’t imply anything about whether or not I can.

    2. But “private business”, Mike. (sarc tag here)

      Never mind that the government is hyping up the CV hysteria so that the vast majority are convinced that they are about to die from it, thereby influencing businesses to take “reasonable precautions”. We are in a situation where the government is using private companies to restrict the rights of citizens in a way that they could never get away with legislatively. All they have to do is keep allowing the right private companies to consolidate and grow to increase their ability to control the market in whatever field, and voila, no more pesky first, second, etc amendments. Sure you can start your own social media company, or your own cruise ship line , or your own internet, but never mind that you won’t be able to access bank accounts, payment processors, credit cards, etc.

      1. ” Sure you can start your own social media company, or your own cruise ship line , or your own internet, but never mind that you won’t be able to access bank accounts, payment processors, credit cards, etc.”

        Why do you feel entitled to access bank accounts, credit cards, etc.? Get your grubby fingers out of my wallet!

    3. You know what would be helpful–if Professor Volokh linked to some writing where he explained his thoughts on the intersection of libertarianism and communicable diseases. Then you wouldn’t have to speculate and you would know the answer to your question.

      Oh, wait…

      1. No, I read his linked article last summer, and perused it again today.

        Cognitive dissonance controls.

        1. Two possibilities exist:

          1. The Professor’s knowledge and analysis exceeds your capacity to follow

          2. You are wiser and more knowledgeable than the Professor is, and you are seeing flaws in his reasoning that he missed.

          I know which way I’m betting.

    4. It falls neatly into the Harm Principle.

      I can certainly see, in the face of a pandemic, restricting movement of people based on certification of vaccination as more libertarian than restricting movement of people based on certification of citizenship.

      1. The harm has to be actual, not hypothetical; the harm can not be predicated upon weaponized hypochondria, or discredited modeling, or the fearmongering, power hungry pronouncements of public health bureaucrats, to even begin the conversation.

        1. You left out the “face diaper” part . . . probably because you needed to go grab that ball before the nine-year-old reached onto your lawn to get it back.

          Disaffected, anti-social misfits are among my favorite culture war casualties.

        2. “The harm has to be actual”

          Hospitals are filled with actual sick people. Did you think they were imaginary?

    5. Say what?!

      Since when are libertarian’s not for an absolute right of association? It’s libertarian to have the right to exclude customers from your business but not to ask them for evidence of whatever criteria they’re using? You know, like asking for an original birth certificate before letting a child play on a girls sports team in South Dakota? Or insisting a poor, elderly woman have a current ID in order to vote?

      A vaccine passport is merely a tool used to exclude people you don’t wish to associate with. Why isn’t that being championed by libertarians across the country? (/s)

      1. Totally this.

        What’s striking is how many “libertarians” are all about principle when the local restaurant wants to exclude patrons based on skin color, a bakery doesn’t want to sell cupcakes to a gay person, or a business wants to fire a transgender employee, but let a private business exclude a Republican or require a vaccine passport for entry, then suddenly think of all the negative consequences….for me.

        Assholes.

    6. Absolutely. They are incompatible.

      1. Apparently, small minds have trouble holding two ideas in them.

  3. “Say a venue (a meeting hall, a hotel, a university) starts using a passport that’s supplied by some tech company, and that tech company then decides—whether because of its managers’ or employees’ ideological views, or because of pressure from other customers or suppliers—that it will stop serving venues that host “extremist” or “hateful” or “pro-insurrectionist” or anti-“anti-racist” events. Or say that the company decides to stop serving passport-holders who have attended such nefarious events; they reject such evil ideas”

    How about a general policy that a business that purports to conduct a form of business is open to anyone seeking such a business? Just a fundamental assessment that being “open for business” is an offer of contract, which can be accepted by walking in. Then apply ordinary contract law.

    1. Libertarians can’t even get behind “‘whites only’ signs are banned”, and you think they’d go for that?

      1. I wasn’t suggesting “Libertarians” get behind it (Libertarians can’t even get behind the same definition of “libertarian”). I was, however, suggesting a legislative body could get behind it.

  4. If it’s for Covid, then any US restrictions after June 1, 2021 on anyone at all are irrational, anti-scientific, and fear-based. Anyone in the US population who wants to be immune to Covid will have had the opportunity to get vaccinated by then, except young children who are not at significant risk from Covid.

    When everyone at risk is vaccinated, Covid becomes no longer dangerous. Some point in March or April or May Covid will be less dangerous than average flu season. And the danger will continue to recede for months after that.

    Requiring vaccination is not warranted. Get vaccinated yourself if you don’t want to get Covid.

    The rest of the discussion therefore falls beyond rationality. Can something go wrong by requiring immunity passports? If they’re required, someone is already acting irrationally. So you can expect them to do more, additional irrational things.

    1. Are we sure yet that vaccinated people can’t get and transmit to other non-vaccinated people? If the answer is no then I’m not sure how it’s obviously *irrational* to support passports (rational =/= ‘correct’ of course).

      1. As it becomes less dangerous than the flu, there’s little or no reason to care about who can get it and who can transmit it.

        People can transmit a great many not-very-dangerous illnesses. Get vaccinated if you’re at risk and you don’t want to get Covid. The rest of us don’t have to suffer for anti-vaxxer choices, nor do we have to suffer to keep healthy people from (the dwindling possibility of) a mild illness that goes away in a couple days.

        1. Wait a minute, the person who will be the recipient of the harm from another has the duty to ward off the harm that outweighs that of the person doing the harm? I doubt you believe this applied to other contexts.

          You’re being asked to undergo the harm of…getting a free shot, in order to prevent your harming another with a cold experience. I know I’d consider the latter a greater inconvenience (and I really dislike shots).

          1. Try expressing that clearly.

            1. You are a selfish jerk. Clear enough?

        2. So is your theory that all school vaccinations should be optional as well? Why is the Covid vaccine different from MMR? Did you hold this same view pre-Covid?

          What about herd immunity protecting people who can’t be vaccinated for whatever reason, or people who get vaccinated where the vaccine doesn’t work?

          1. Measles is dangerous to kids. Covid is not of significant danger to kids.

            What about herd immunity for the flu? Flu kills lots of people. What’s your plan for that? Why do we have to worry about herd immunity for Covid when we don’t have to worry about it for the flu?

            Unlike the flu, you can get a vaccination for Covid that brings your risk level down to approximately zero. Flu vaccinations are sort-of a crap shoot. They only cover some strains based on guesswork.

            1. “Unlike the flu, you can get a vaccination for Covid that brings your risk level down to approximately zero.”

              You should publish your findings in that regard.

              1. Both parts (the reliability of the COVID vaccines and the reliability of the flu vaccines) have unsurprisingly been closely studied, and the results have been published, and Ben is right.

            2. “Covid is not of significant danger to kids.”

              Except the ones who get permanent heart damage. How many of them get this? You don’t know either? Oh, dear. Your reputation as a medical researcher is going to suffer.

              1. You want 300 million people to suffer because someone told you a story about a kid who got heart damage.

                1. Nice try. YOU want 300 million people to suffer, so you won’t have to get a shot.

                  1. If you act like a big boy, you can get a sucker after you get your shot.

        3. “As it becomes less dangerous than the flu, there’s little or no reason to care about who can get it and who can transmit it.”

          Is this another variation of “it’ll go away by itself when the weather gets warmer”?

  5. “Requiring vaccination is not warranted. Get vaccinated yourself if you don’t want to get Covid.”

    Some people can’t get a vaccine. Even the people who can, can’t get one that is 100% effective. Stop trying to kill grandma, dude!

    1. The vaccine is approximately 100% effective at avoiding hospitalization from Covid. A very small number of vaccinated people will get a mild case. It is irrational to have restrictive policies to avoid a very small number of people becoming mildly ill for a short time.

      Moreover, you’re not 100% safe from anything. You can get a cold and have it progress to pneumonia and die. You can get bitten by a common insect and die. You can step on a small stone, get a very minor injury from it, it becomes infected, you can die.

      We don’t have have irrational measures against the common cold. We don’t have irrational measures against common insects. We don’t have irrational measures against pebbles. Let’s stop being irrational about Covid.

      1. Wow, you totally missed his point which was about *transmission to others,* particularly those that are not or can not vaccinated, instead circling right back to ‘well, those that are vaccinated won’t get much sick!’

        Is it hard for you to think about the well being of others Ben?

        1. Others should get vaccinated if they want to avoid Covid. What’s stopping them?

          1. Some people can’t get vaccinated (right now kids, pregnant women, people with allergic conditions, etc.,).

            And this seems like ‘other people should get fences if they don’t want my dog in their yard, why do us dog owners have to suffer with leash laws?’

            1. Kids are not at significant risk. Pregnant women should be careful and wear a mask if they don’t want to get Covid. And get vaccinated later. Pregnancy only lasts a short time.

              Covid isn’t a dog. You want everyone to build a fence or two or three in case they might accidentally somehow acquire a dog.

              1. “Kids are not at significant risk.”

                Of getting sick at all? And what about kids with special conditions (allergies, CF, etc.,)?

                “Pregnant women should be careful and wear a mask if they don’t want to get Covid.”

                Why should they have to take steps to keep you from harming them rather than you take a simple step to eliminate the harm?

                “Covid isn’t a dog.”

                Yeah, analogies, how do they work?

                I’m saying that even though the chance of a dog biting you is slim, and you don’t want your dog to bite anyone and don’t think it will, they shouldn’t have to build a fence you should have to use a leash. Your suffering at having to use the leash is not greater than their desire to be free from the potential of your dog harming them, and it’s your dog that ultimately you cannot control (just like you can’t control whether your unvaccinated self has and transmits Covid).

                1. Refusing to take a J & J or Moderna or any other magic jab of BIG PHARMA is not harming anybody. In fact, refusing to take such medicine is more likely to cause less harm to another.

                  1. It’s not the lack of a vaccine that is harming people. It’s the presence of a deadly, communicable illness that does it.

                2. I don’t have Covid or a dog. I shouldn’t have to take precautions based on your irrational fear that I might someday get a dog. Do you think everyone should have to buy a leash in case they someday get a dog and the dog bites someone? Maybe you also think everyone should have to buy a Beware of Dog sign and install a fence around their yard to keep a dog they don’t have?

                  It’s completely irrational.

                  1. Do people tell you they consider you a disaffected crank to your face, or do they merely whisper behind your back?

                  2. Um, you don’t know whether you have Covid.

                    1. This is one of the kinds of things people who know just KNOW. There’s no point arguing matters of faith with twits.

                  3. “I don’t have Covid or a dog.”

                    Or a heart, or a brain.

      2. “The vaccine is approximately 100% effective at avoiding hospitalization from Covid.”

        But about 0% effective at avoiding hospitalization from Covid for people who can’t get it, or can’t take it even if they can get it. And it isn’t clear whether or not they can still harbor the virus and spread it to unvaccinated individuals.

        “A very small number of vaccinated people will get a mild case. It is irrational to have restrictive policies to avoid a very small number of people becoming mildly ill for a short time.”

        The other people, on the other hand, the ones who get sick and stay sick, or get sick and stay dead, haven’t ceased existing just because you don’t care what happens to them.

  6. the creator of one of my favorite web-comics has done a series of cartoons about the Social Credit system and it’s ramifications.

    Click on the “Lovely People” picture here to see it.

    http://www.sssscomic.com/comic2.php?page=412

    Looks like this could be us in a few years.

    1. You’re getting advice from comics? What does Iron Man have to say about this?

  7. “* oppose the passports unless the passport system is set up in some distributed way that isn’t subject to the power of one or a few companies,
    * oppose the passports unless there are binding contractual promises by the companies that they will provide passport services to all prospective venues and to all prospective holders, or
    * call for common-carrier-like legislation so mandating, though there can of course be libertarian and pragmatic objections to such regulation.”

    While none of these suggestions bothers me (I’m not a libertarian), I would note that I don’t think there’s much risk of a “tech giant” blacklisting an extremist organization who uses the service like there clearly is for things like hosting extremist chat apps. In the case of Parler, the app was using Amazon’s hosting services to spread messages encouraging, among other things, violence. Whereas, another Amazon-hosted app used as a vaccine passport wouldn’t present the same dilemma for the host because it is a one-way transmission of information. There’s still a chance that some design of a passport system could cause a blacklisting issues, but that would be the result of trying to get the app to do too much, which opens up other risks that are likely greater than blacklisting (like HIPAA issues.)

    For larger numbers of people (I assume here that extremists are fringe but I could be wrong), poverty could be a problem. If the solution is mobile app only, you’re limiting its use to people with the cash and access to buy the device along with the education needed to use it. Based on my own experience, even university professors can have trouble operating a mobile phone–especially if they’re over the age of 60. So I’d add this:

    * oppose passports unless there is an option that does not require a person own a mobile device which is accessible regardless of income level, age, or ability.

    1. If it’s based on a mobile app, remain suspicious that the data security is poor until at least several years pass with no security breaches, and remain doubtful even then.

    2. “I don’t think there’s much risk of a ‘tech giant’ blacklisting an extremist organization”

      Apparently, you missed the news reports on the hundreds of corporations blacklisting Georgia as a extreme racist organization for supporting voter ID. Leading to actions like MLB blacklisting racist Atlanta, in preference to enlightened Denver which has relatively fewer blacks there.

  8. Every day I gain a fuller understanding of the events in Italy and Germany in the 1930’s.

    1. We get it, you’re already a fascist.

      1. I disagree with you James. As a libertarian, it’s frightening to see so many on the left agree with Nazi tactics such as oppressing speech they don’t like, more socialism as that’s in the name of the Nazi party, and the mob pressure and blacklisting of political opponents, when the politics of personal destruction fails. Don’t you see how they are indoctrinating others? How was it Democrats got people to riot about racism, when they run the police departments that are kneeling on black perps necks helping to kill them?

  9. Private companies? This is going to be a government thing.

    Already, the “Biden administration” is working on it, dictating that it will be “free” and other details. Just a bunch of nefarious world domination nonsense that creeps are salivating over.

    1. stop salivating over it.

  10. People certainly have the option to boycott any business that requires a passport.

    1. They can try.

    2. “People certainly have the option to boycott any business that requires a passport.”

      I didn’t want to shop there anyway. All their grapes are sour!

Please to post comments