“FIVE FREEDOMS” – CITIZENS VOICES: WHY NEW YORK STATE’S EXCELSIOR PASS PROGRAM WILL FAIL
As New York State’s Excelsior Pass begins its roll out we, the citizens of New York, are promised “a free, fast and secure way to present digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results”. The Excelsior Pass website states that the pass will “support a safe reopening of New York”. The website talks in glowing terms about how wonderful this new app will be and how you’ll be able to “attend sporting events, arts performances and more!” That’s their exclamation point not mine. Early adopters of the pass include Madison Square Garden, the Barclays Center and Yankee Stadium.
But, hey, wait a minute! Beneath this glossy veneer that makes the pass sound like you’ll have as much fun with it as you did when you downloaded Angry Birds, something very sinister lurks.
There is an underlying presumption with the Excelsior Pass (and other “vaccine passports” – a term that New York State mostly avoids using) that you are “sick” unless you can prove that you are “healthy”. This is akin to inverting the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty to a presumption that you are guilty until proven innocent.
And what evidence does New York State have that it is necessary to institute such measures to ensure “safe reopening”? Other states either never shut down in the first place or have recently re-opened without resorting to such invasive measures. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an Executive Order on April 2nd banning vaccine passports, to quote him: “we are not going to have you provide proof of this just to be able to live your life.” The death rate per million people in New York stands at 2,593 as at March 30th, 2021 (the 2nd worst in the country) whereas the death rate per million people in Florida is only 1,549.
And why does New York State continue to insist that “safe reopening” requires capacity limits for restaurants and entertainment venues while condoning having its citizens participate in air travel that involves being crammed into very close proximity in a very confined space?
Aside from these significant concerns, closer examination of how the Excelsior Pass actually works reveals major flaws and challenges which are guaranteed to ensure that it will ultimately fail.
For starters, the website indicates that New Yorkers “can always show alternate proof of vaccination or testing, like another mobile application or paper form, directly at a business or venue”. Think about that for a moment. Which other mobile applications? It doesn’t say. Have you seen the easily forgeable CDC-issued vaccine cards, a template for which is readily available to forgers on the Internet? You know, the one that not only doesn’t offer “digital proof” of anything but isn’t even digital. How exactly are venues, restaurants and other businesses supposed to verify a piece of card with hand-written dates against New York State data systems that they don’t have access to? This fact alone completely undermines the entire Excelsior Pass Program.
But there’s more. How does New York State establish the identity of people who present to take a COVID test or receive a vaccination injection? The answer is “not very effectively”. A cursory glance at a driver’s license when people show up to get tested does not constitute a thorough identity check. Also, the data used to establish identity (First Name, Last Name, Date of Birth, Zip Code) is typically not adequate to establish that someone is who they say they are. For example, some New York State systems require as many as 20 identifiers to establish that John Smith is the John Smith he claims to be.
Further examination of some of the “small print” on the Excelsior Pass website reveal further flaws in the way the pass is purported to work. Take this hidden gem from the FAQ: “Passes can be retrieved for both COVID-19 PCR tests and COVID-19 Antigen tests; however, vaccination and/or testing requirements may vary based on the business or venue you plan to visit.” The implication of this is that even if you get the pass they might not let you in.
If you have an exemption or have had COVID you seem to be out of luck. Based on the information available on the website there appears to be no provision for such people to obtain a pass unless they subject themselves to continual testing.
To sum up, what does all this mean? The whole premise of the Excelsior Pass Program is that it supposedly provides an assurance to businesses that they are not permitting unvaccinated people and/or COVID-positive people into their establishment. Beyond the goal of gaining access to the establishment of their choice, presumably there is an implied assurance that the consumers themselves will be entering a “safe” environment (i.e. one that is free from “risky” people who have COVID or aren’t vaccinated). But, as illustrated above, there is no way that New York State can provide such an assurance.
In conclusion, the Excelsior Pass Program will almost certainly go the way of the COVID Alert NY app (the voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app) which you probably don’t remember because hardly anyone uses it (to the point where Cuomo has consistently refused to provide data about its usage). What will they try next?