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The UK government is in talks with facial recognition firms to develop COVID-19 immunity passports

Business Insider logo Business Insider 4/18/2020 mcoulter@businessinsider.com (Martin Coulter)
Matthew Hancock wearing a suit and tie: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo © REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
  • UK officials have held talks with a number of ID verification startups – including Yoti and IDnow – about rolling out COVID-19 "immunity passports". 
  • As the pandemic pushes the global economy further into the depths of recession, governments around the world are looking into ways to prove a person has recovered from the disease. 
  • A spokesman for IDnow, based in Berlin, told Business Insider conversations had revolved around preventing fraud, including people "selling" their certificates on. 
  • Business Insider previously reported AI security startup Onfido was in talks with US officials and a number of European governments to develop such passports. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

The UK government has held talks with a number of ID verification startups about creating "immunity passports" or a similar scheme for people who have recovered from COVID-19. 

As the pandemic pushes the global economy further into the depths of recession, officials around the world have mooted the idea of immunity passports for those who have recovered from the disease. The idea is that those who have recovered may return to work.

At least two startups, Yoti and Berlin-based IDnow, said they had held talks with British officials on how their technology could be used to determine how recently someone had been tested. 

A spokesman for IDnow said conversations revolved around how they could prevent fraud, such as individuals "selling" their immunity certificates onto other people. 

"We discussed using our video identity verification software to, firstly, confirm the document that the person is using is valid and, secondly, to conduct a short interview with the person," the spokesman said. 

In a press conference broadcast to the nation last month, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned it was "too early in the science of immunity" to be able to roll out a comprehensive scheme – but confirmed the government "will look at" options available. 

Speaking to Business Insider, Yoti CEO Robin Tombs confirmed he had participated in talks with government officials  – but reiterated the need for caution around the language of "immunity". 

"Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how 'immune' a person is once they have recovered from this disease," he said.

"Our discussions focused more on being able to tell when an individual had most recently been tested, for example if you had negative results confirmed a day or two ago, rather than proving you're absolutely immune." 

Business Insider previously reported AI security startup Onfido was in talks with US officials and a number of European governments to develop immunity passports, though it declined to clarify when questioned on the latter. 

It isn't clear when a UK immunity passport scheme would be feasible. Although the government has touted immunity passports as a way of ending the current nationwide lockdown, the scheme's success would hinge on mass testing. But the rollout of coronavirus tests has been slow, while millions of antibody test kits were found to be ineffective.

Business Insider approached the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care for comment. 

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