The titans of global capitalism are exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to institute social credit-style digital ID systems across the West.
JEREMY LOFFREDO AND MAX BLUMENTHAL ( The Gray Zone ) –
The death by starvation of Etwariya Devi, a 67-year-old widow from the rural Indian state of Jharkhand, might have passed without notice had it not been part of a more widespread trend.
Like 1.3 billion of her fellow Indians, Devi had been pushed to enroll in a biometric digital ID system called Aadhaar in order to access public services, including her monthly allotment of 25kg of rice. When her fingerprint failed to register with the shoddy system, Devi was denied her food ration. Throughout the course of the following three months in 2017, she was repeatedly refused food until she succumbed to hunger, alone in her home.
Premani Kumar, a 64-year-old woman also from Jharkhand, met the same demise as Devi, dying of hunger and exhaustion the same year after the Aadhaar system transferred her pension payments to another person without her permission, while cutting off her monthly food rations.
A similarly cruel fate was reserved for Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year-old girl, also from Jharkhand, who reportedly died begging for rice after her family’s ration card was canceled because it had not been linked to their Aadhaar digital ID.
These three heart-rending casualties were among a spate of deaths in rural India in 2017 which came as a direct result of the Aadhaar digital ID system.
With over one billion Indians in its database, Aadhaar is the largest biometric digital ID program ever constructed. Besides serving as a portal to government services, it tracks users’ movements between cities, their employment status, and purchasing records. It is a de facto social credit system that serves as the key entry point for accessing services in India.
Having branded Aadhaar’s creator, fellow billionaire Nandan Nilekani, as a “hero,” initiatives backed by tech oligarch Bill Gates have long sought to bring the “Aadhaar approach to other countries.” With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, Gates and other mavens of the digital ID industry have an unprecedented opportunity to introduce their programs into the wealthy countries of the Global North.
For those yearning for an end to pandemic-related restrictions, credential programs certifying their vaccination against Covid-19 have been marketed as the key to reopening the economy and restoring their personal freedom. But the implementation of immunity passports is also accelerating the establishment of a global digital identity infrastructure.
As the military surveillance firm and NATO contractor Thales recently put it, vaccine passports “are a precursor to digital ID wallets.”
And as the CEO of iProove, a biometric ID company and Homeland Security contractor, emphasized to Forbes, “The evolution of vaccine certificates will actually drive the whole field of digital ID in the future. So, therefore, this is not just about Covid, this is about something even bigger.”
For the national security state, digital immunity passports promise unprecedented control over populations wherever such systems are implemented. Ann Cavoukian, the former privacy commissioner of Ontario, Canada has described the vaccine passport system already active in her province as “a new, inescapable web of surveillance with geolocation data being tracked everywhere.”
For tech oligarchs such Bill Gates and neoliberal institutions such as the World Economic Forum, digital ID and digital currency systems have already enabled the extraction of unbelievable profits in the Global South, where hundreds of millions of people remain “unbanked” and therefore outside the sphere of electronic payments systems.
Now, with grassroots protest building against an exclusionary regime of vaccine passports, the captains of global capitalism are campaigning with more urgency than ever to bring digital ID to the West.
For these elite interests, the digitization of immunity passports represent a critical tool in a long-planned economic and political transformation.
“With no Covid Pass, my wife and I are banished from society”
Across the globe, the certification of vaccination against COVID-19 is already a requirement to participate in daily life.
In Indonesia, COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory, and those who refuse may face fines or be refused access to public services. In Greece, residents must present immunity to work in or enter bars, theaters, and other indoor public spaces.
France has similarly required residents to carry a health pass for access to all restaurants, bars, trains, and any venue accommodating more than 50 people, a decision that has stoked widespread protests throughout the country. The socialist French former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has blasted the new restrictions as “absurd, unfair and authoritarian.”
Italy has mandated its Green Pass for all workers, threatening them with termination from jobs and suspension of pay. Italy also requires the pass to use Italian public transit. Scenes of private security over-enforcement of the Green Pass and the exclusion of Italy’s elderly from vital services have already begun to go viral on social media.
Restrictions for Lithuanians who are not double vaccinated or unable to demonstrate recent prior infection from Covid-19 represent some of the harshest in the world. They are banned from restaurants, all non-essential stores, shopping centers, beauty services, libraries, banks or insurance agencies, universities, inpatient medical care, and train travel.
Gluboco Lietuva, a self-described “Lithuanian father” who has refused vaccination, stated on Twitter: “With no Covid Pass, my wife and I are banished from society. We have no income. Banned from most shopping. Can barely exist.”
Four out of ten Canadian provinces currently require citizens to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter indoor public venues like restaurants and theaters. All federal public servants and some other workers must be vaccinated to keep their jobs.
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also requires all air travelers and interprovincial train travelers to be vaccinated. Canada’s Alberta province took the measures a step further this September when it announced that those who cannot prove full COVID vaccination will no longer be allowed to socialize indoors in groups of more than 12.
In Israel, meanwhile, only those who have received three doses can work or shop indoors and go to restaurants; citizens who received two shots over six months ago are now considered unvaccinated. This rule has consolidated what even the New York Times has deemed a “two-tier system for the vaccinated and unvaccinated … raising legal, moral and ethical questions.”
In the US, President Joe Biden is “moving forward with vaccination requirements wherever [he] can.” Biden, who declared that his “patience is wearing thin” with unvaccinated Americans, recently announced new federal requirements mandating that about 80 million Americans – including all those who work at companies with more than 100 employees – must either be vaccinated or get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
Biden has also mandated that those working at facilities which receive Medicare or Medicaid must show proof of immunity to keep their jobs. According to AP, President Biden is considering proof of immunity for interstate travel, a restriction his former public health advisor, Ezekiel Emanuel, has clamored for.
In the state of Colorado, the UCHealth hospital system has announced that it will not allow organ transplants to be performed on unvaccinated patients, prompting some to travel to Texas for life-saving procedures.
New York City offers a glimpse of the program in store for the rest of the country. The city’s “Key to NYC” requirement, which went into effect September 13, requires proof of vaccination to work at or attend indoor dining, indoor fitness, and entertainment venues like museums, stadiums, arcades, and theaters.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor De Blasio stated. “[New York City] is a miraculous place literally full of wonders … if you’re un-vaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate.”
COVID-related mandates could be permanent
While outlets like CNN have referred to vaccine passports as a “useful, temporary measure,” it is increasingly evident that the proof of immunity restrictions imposed on Western populations may not go away any time soon.
Australia’s New South Wales Ministry of Health Dr. Kerry Chant has stated that citizens “need to get used to being vaccinated with COVID vaccines for the future… it will be a regular cycle of vaccination and revaccination.”
Albert Bourla, CEO of the Pfizer corporation that has seen its stock skyrocket during the pandemic, remarked that the “most likely scenario” is coronavirus vaccine shots mandated on an annual basis.
As a February Nature headline read, “the coronavirus is here to stay.” Or, as Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergency Program, put it: it is “very, very, unlikely” that COVID-19 will ever go away.
“Eradicating this virus right now from the world is a lot like trying to plan the construction of a stepping-stone pathway to the Moon,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “It’s unrealistic.”
“This is our life from now, in waves,” Israel’s Coronavirus Czar, Salman Zarka, acknowledged.
Already, Zarka has prepared plans to mandate a fourth dose for Israelis.
COVID mandates to be digitally enforced
While a state-mandated treadmill of boosters may seem unappealing to many, if not outright hellish, for others the nightmare presents the opportunity of a lifetime. As early as May 2020, only seven weeks after the pandemic was declared, US tech billionaire Bill Gates predicted that “eventually we will have some digital certificates to show who has recovered or been tested recently or when we have a vaccine who has received it.”
Now, over a year later, a growing number of local and national governments require some form of digital proof of vaccination or natural immunity against COVID-19.
Those who want to travel to Canada, for example, are required to download an app that verifies the vaccination status of incoming travelers. The government also plans to introduce a federal, Canada-wide digital vaccine passport in the coming months.
When the European Union (EU) opened up to foreign tourists this summer, it introduced a “Digital COVID Certificate” which granted entry to those vaccinated against COVID-19, those who have had a negative test, or those who recently recovered from an infection. Its proposed “Digital Green Certificate” has been branded as a means to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the pandemic.
The government of France is partnering with a biometric technology company called IDEMIA to “make it easier for its citizens to prove their identity and complete online transactions using a smartphone.” The new app will “enable French citizens to place their national electronic identification cards [introduced to France as a COVID-19 response in August 2021] … on the back of their smartphones and have their identity instantly confirmed.” IDEMIA is also helping France certify travelers immunity data with their Health Travel Pass suite.
The US is still accepting paper vaccination records, and President Biden has insisted no national app is in the works. However, seven U.S. states (California, New York, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Hawaii) have already implemented apps certifying vaccination against COVID-19 and have various degrees of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place.
ImmunaBand, a wearable wristband, whose company mission is “to bring the world a little closer in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic and for you to demonstrate to the world your vaccination status,” has also been approved by New York City as proof of vaccination.