So far, more than 350 million Covid certificates have been issued in the EU, according to the Commission’s own data. But Ursula von der Leyen’s flagship tool to ensure economies in the bloc will not have to shut down again is threatening the credibility of the EU.
A black market of fake vaccination passes has emerged in France allowing people to buy falsified QR codes that are supposedly undetectable.
Sellers of the fake certificates resorted to adverts on popular social media platform Snapchat, where accounts rarely last for more than a few days after openly advertising their counterfeit documents.
Some ads said “Your health pass by email in eight to 10 hours maximum”, “Vaccination is optional thanks to our service” or “Say no to the vaccine and get a health pass without getting vaccinated”.
Pressed on the risks posed by fake Covid documents and the security of the EU’s digital pass system, a spokesperson for the Commission told Euractiv: “The Commission will continue following up closely on this issue and take appropriate steps where necessary.
“It is important to distinguish between the security of the EU Digital Covid Certificate – and the possible falsification of vaccination certificates that are used to generate secure EU Digital Covid Certificate.”
The Covid certificates contain a QR code with security features that “cannot be falsified”, they added.
They said: “The digital signing of the barcode using cryptographic keys helps ensure that the certificates’ authenticity, integrity and validity are verifiable.”
The spokesperson also defended the bloc’s system for the issuance and verification of EU digital Covid passes, based on a public-key infrastructure.
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They said: “The trust framework therefore allows for the detection of fraud, in particular, forgery by anyone in the trust chain and by using a suitable application.”
However, the spokesperson stressed that it is “very important that member states have put in place robust controls and procedures at points where certificates are generated to ensure that their issuance is well protected”.
“Member states should also ensure that, in cases where a secure EU Certificate is issued on the basis of another vaccination proof, that proof is properly checked,” they added.
The counterfeiters face prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to 150,000 euros. Those who use fake health passes could spend three years behind bars.
Several people have been charged so far for health pass fraud in France.
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Scams selling completely fake QR codes also abound, but the authorities are focusing on those creating false vaccination records in the health system.
One woman has received a one-year prison term — which was converted to home detention due to Covid — for creating some 200 QR codes for sale.
She worked at a vaccine centre.
In the UK, Downing Street confirmed the Government intends to press on with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs, an idea which has previously been met with criticism from MPs in both parties.
The scheme would see members of the public required to show proof they have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to gain entry to clubs and other large-scale events.
Asked if he has made up his mind about vaccine passports, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We are looking at, by the end of September when everyone has had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, for the large venues, venues that could end up causing a real spike in infections, where we need to use the certification process.
“If you look at what the FA have done, they’ve done so brilliantly in terms of checking vaccine status to reopen football.
“That is the sort of right thing to do and we are absolutely on track to continue to make sure that we do that.
“There’s a reason for that … the reason being is that, I, as does the Prime Minister, want to make sure the whole economy remains open.
“The worst thing we can do for those venues is to have a sort of open-shut-open-shut strategy because we see infection rates rise because of the close interaction of people, that’s how the virus spreads, if people are in close spaces in large numbers we see spikes appearing.
“The best thing to do then is to work with the industry to make sure that they can open safely and sustainably in the long term, and the best way to do that is to check vaccine status.”
Mr Zahawi said he will do “everything in my power” to avoid another lockdown and is focused on making sure the booster programme is delivered.
He said: “Nobody enjoys, by the way, in this Government, certainly not this Prime Minister, having restrictions on people’s freedoms.
“It goes against the DNA of this Government to do that.”