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April 26, 2021  |  permalink

Harpers: “Negative I.D.”

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My friend Atossa Araxia Abrahamian was kind enough to quote me in her “Annotations” column on vaccine passports for the May 2021 issue of Harpers. As you might imagine, I take a pretty dim view of “health theater” and its descent from security theater:

CommonPass and its competitors are a private solution to a public problem; they exist only because governments have failed repeatedly to keep their populations safe from COVID-19. Security protocols introduced at states’ peripheries have a tendency to creep into the center. Greg Lindsay, the director of research at the urban planning group NewCities and a co-author of Aerotropolis, noted how the “security theater” that developed after September 11 was pushed from airports and border zones into offices, schools, and stadiums. Vaccine passports, he said, are “another permutation of post–9/11 thinking.” Many institutions are already using apps such as ProtectWell and MyMedBot to require visitors to self-report. Soon, being asked to whip out a COVID-19 app at any gate or door could be the norm, as technology that grows out of the pandemic turns concert halls, restaurants, and bars into little airports. When this pandemic wanes, “CommonPass as it exists today will go away,” a representative for the organization claims. This only makes sense; as Singh says, “We don’t have a passport for the flu.” And yet as new variants emerge, we may have to learn to live with the virus–whether that means getting annual booster shots, or continuing to test and trace. Widespread contact tracing for COVID-19 may train individuals both to accept more surveillance and to keep their health information on hand at all times–ostensibly to prevent future pandemics.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is the director of applied research at NewCities and director of strategy at its mobility offshoot CoMotion.  He is also a partner at FutureMap, a geo-strategic advisory firm based in Singapore, a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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