Opinion

Biden and Cuomo Directing the Drive for a 21st Century COVID 'Scarlet Letter'

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Posted: Mar 31, 2021 12:01 AM
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Biden and Cuomo Directing the Drive for a 21st Century COVID 'Scarlet Letter'

Source: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

In 1850, American author Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a novel in which the female protagonist was forced to wear a highly visible “scarlet letter” as a sign that she had committed a terrible sin (adultery). The term has ever since been used as shorthand for publicly stigmatizing someone who has done (or not done) something for which they should be ostracized or punished.

Now, more than 170 years after “The Scarlet Letter” was published, President Joe Biden, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and others are calling for a 21st Century scarlet letter (in this case a “C” for COVID), in the form of an electronic app attesting that the bearer has either received a COVID vaccine or has otherwise been deemed immunized to the virus.

Unlike the “A” that Hawthorne’s protagonist, Hester Prynne, was forced to display, the new-fangled “COVID Passport” works also in reverse, by identifying those who have not been immunized and are therefore to be denied admission to an event or service they might otherwise access. 

The hypocrisy of the Democrats’ plan for a COVID ID is glaring.

Just last week, Biden blasted the governor and legislature of Georgia for mandating that absentee voters must show a valid ID in order to receive a ballot. There were other measures included in the legislative package, but the ID requirement caused the loudest howl by Biden and other Democrats who claimed it was “racist” in its intent, and in practice would “suppress” the minority vote. 

In a word, requiring a person to show a valid ID in order to obtain a benefit, here an absentee ballot, was, in the view of the President of the United States and many others in his party, “racist," a reverse scarlet letter if you will.

So much for consistency. What is “racist” one day is not so the next day, depending, of course, on who or which political party is advocating for an identification requirement.

More importantly, there are the privacy concerns that underlie – or certainly should underlie – the use of an electronic tag or “passport” (as advocates for proof of COVID immunity like to call it). 

Hester Prynne was forced to display her Scarlet A on her outer clothing. COVID passport advocates are more sophisticated, or cagey, in this regard, and propose to rely on a type of electronic talisman that would be read or discoverable by a government agency or private business serving as a gatekeeper, to deny entry to undesirables. “Undesirables” in this context would be individuals who do not meet the criteria set by the government to be considered COVID-safe.

Not surprisingly, New York appears to be the first state actually to have begun implementing a COVID “passport.” Cuomo has even come up with a cute name for the app – the “Excelsior Pass.” Sounds so impressive there almost certainly will be some New Yorkers who sign up simply to be a member of such a rarefied class of “Excelsior” designees. Cuomo has – with a straight face, even – assured every holder of the pass that their privacy will be protected. 

Despite assurances from Empire State officials that people who opt to sign up for the new app will be guaranteed that their personal and medical information that necessarily has to be inputted into the app will be protected, clearly, there is no way this will be the case. In order for the system to work as advertised, there has to be a link between the holder of the app (the “COVID-free” person) and the business he or she wants to access; whether a concert at Madison Square Garden, dinner at a five-star restaurant, or entrance to a government building. There is no way that with such links being accessed every time the Excelsior Pass holder elects to use the app, their privacy can be secured, whether at the point of access or at the database(s) where the information is maintained.

Already, Silicon Valley behemoths, including Microsoft and Oracle, are chomping at the bit to be part of the COVID passport system(s) that the Biden Administration is developing. These and other corporations, such as Walmart, are members of a “Vaccine Credential Initiative” working to ensure that “health information” belonging to users of the apps these companies develop and own, will be “feely and safely accessible.” That pretty much says it all. 

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.