One of the easiest ways to make a deadly error is to take action to address a problem without giving careful thought to whether the action you’re taking will solve the problem, or if will have dire unintended consequences without solving anything.

The latest example of the “we have to do something regardless of what it does to us” impulse is the impending mandate for vaccination passports, also known as vaccine verification. The idea is that people will be required to show proof that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to enter an indoor space, such as a restaurant, retail store, office or venue, and even some outdoor spaces such as sports stadiums.

Legislation was floated in Sacramento to mandate vaccine verification. Proposals are pending in Los Angeles. San Francisco and New York City have already required it, and the president of the United States is reportedly considering a national program to restrict interstate travel.

Vaccination passports are a terrible idea and we’d better recognize the risks before we go any further down the path of “verification” by government as a condition of freedom.

This began with people receiving paper cards showing the date and the type of their COVID vaccination. Paper cards can be inconvenient to carry and are easily counterfeited. They are rapidly being replaced with an app that connects to a government database, so people can show their vaccination record on their phones. Next we’ll likely see tamper-proof ID cards with a magnetic stripe, so workers checking vaccination verification can use their own phone and an app to read the stripe and connect with the government database to verify vaccination status. Permission to enter will be determined by an instant red light or green light.

The next question will be, how many vaccinations does it take to change a light bulb?

Currently, the number is two, but it may soon be three. Maybe it will be once or twice per year. Incidentally, the White House announcement of the need for a third booster has already led to two high-level resignations at the FDA, reportedly because the White House jumped ahead of the FDA approval process. It suggests that the “we have to do something” impulse is separating from the careful determination of the value of what we are doing.

If the public accepts the idea of restricted entry to public places controlled by a government database, it’s a short step for the government to add or change the particular criteria used to determine who is allowed to go where.

You want to feel safe, right? There are many dangers. There’s seasonal flu, for example. What’s to stop the government from using that card you’re carrying or that app on your phone to “remind” you that you should get a flu shot, then to require a flu shot as a condition of entry to a public place?

What’s to stop the government from expanding the use of this automated system of controlling the movement of people? There’s a need for public safety. How long before the government’s verification database scoops up geolocation data from your phone for the purpose of contact tracing? If the database shows you’ve been in “close contact” with someone not “fully” vaccinated, will the app give you the red light when you try to enter a restaurant? A grocery store? A school?

Feel safe yet?

What about other types of threats? Will law enforcement records be merged with geolocation data in health records? How about gun and ammunition purchases? There’s no end to the helpful warnings the app can offer.

Vaccine verification systems are just one form of government control. Agencies can use their licensing power to coerce behavior. Legislation or regulations can offer a liability shield that is withdrawn unless there is compliance with edicts.

These control measures can quickly become their own universe, disconnected from their original purpose. The effort to create and implement enforcement mechanisms absorbs the attention of officials who can no longer be bothered to assess the efficacy or necessity of what they are doing.

If it goes far enough, you have a society like China, which last year introduced a QR code system that categorizes people into different colors for various reasons.

Think it can’t happen in the United States? Who’s going to stop it?

Do you have a mirror handy?

The fight to defend freedom begins with an understanding that freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power. It’s up to us, all of us, to enforce the boundaries of that power.

Even in a crisis, do not accept “we have to do something” as justification for initiating policies that are burdensome but useless. Demand to see evidence that the policies actually work. Demand an end to emergency powers when conditions no longer meet the legal definition of an emergency. Demand accountability for reckless and grievous policy errors that cause irreversible damage.

It’s insanity on steroids to say something like “Screw your freedom” and allow the government to mandate and enforce the use of an app, card and database to monitor and control the actions and movements of every person living within its jurisdiction. It’s even more insane to think that a system like that will keep us safe.

Write Susan Shelley: [email protected] and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.


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