In brief

  • The State of New York has introduced a blockchain-powered COVID-19 passport.
  • It’s available for free of use by businesses, and the implementation will be voluntary.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Wednesday the launch of Excelsior Pass, a blockchain-powered COVID-19 passport, for use across the state starting Friday, April 2.

"New Yorkers have proven they can follow public health guidance to beat back COVID,” Governor Cuomo said in an official statement, “and the innovative Excelsior Pass is another tool in our new toolbox to fight the virus while allowing more sectors of the economy to reopen safely and keeping personal information secure.”

Governments worldwide are mulling over the idea of “COVID-19 passports,” a piece of proof that a person is vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. But privacy risks and concerns about the practicality of carrying paperwork are often cited as downsides.

According to Cuomo, however, the Excelsior Pass is the answer to many of those concerns: it’s built on IBM's blockchain-based digital health pass platform, and so the blockchain means that IBM—or any party for that matter—keeps no database of health records.

“Secure technologies, like blockchain and encryption, are woven throughout Excelsior Pass to help protect the data, making it verifiable and trusted,” reads an official statement from the governor. “No private health data is stored or tracked within the apps.”

The governor’s office said the pass will be “similar to a mobile airline boarding pass,” and will be able to confirm the scanned person’s recent negative COVID-19 test result (PCR or antigen) or proof of vaccination.

Steve LaFleche, General Manager of IBM Public and Federal Market, said in a blog post earlier this month that the pass would allow New Yorkers to voluntarily share the status of their health. “Each participant will determine what information they want to share, with whom, when and for what purpose – without sharing the underlying personal data used to generate the credential,” he said.

New York will become the first state to introduce COVID-19 passports. But IBM’s LaFleche predicts the open standards of blockchain technology will “allow other states to join the effort,” allowing the re-opening of the economy nationwide.

The blockchain COVID-19 pass is fully subsidized by the state of New York and so provided for free use by voluntarily participating businesses.

The major venues that will adopt the blockchain COVID-19 pass include the Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Times Union Center in the state’s capital, Albany.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state of New York has confirmed 1.84 million cases and 49,446 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the latest figures aggregated by Google’s COVID-19 Tracker. More than 7.5 million New Yorkers have been vaccinated as of this week.