The Ministry of Health says it has appointed Spark subsidiary Mattr "to construct vaccination passes for use domestically and internationally."
Mattr will be the main provider of the technology that underpins the Ministry's My Vaccine Pass and will develop and support the Ministry's Verifier App for businesses to confirm a person's vaccine status, the MoH says.
My Vaccine Pass, which is an official record of a person's Covid-19 vaccination status, will help people access places within New Zealand that require proof of vaccination under the new Covid-19 Protection Framework, the Ministry says.
A separate pass will be developed for use when travelling internationally.
Both passes will be stored in a QR code that can be downloaded to your phone or printed out. They will be available later this month, the MoH says.
The ministry is also building a free Verifier App to be made available on the App Store and Google Play, for anyone to use to scan and verify a My Vaccine Pass.
To sign up for My Vaccine Pass, people will first have to get a vaccination certificate, which can be claimed through the MyCovidRecord platform, which is operated by the Ministry.
"We have been talking to events companies, tourism operators, and other businesses to understand their requirements for verification. The Ministry's Verifier App can be used for in-person verification," MoH head of national digital services Michael Dreyer said.
The technical specifications for the new system were published on Friday, with the aim of giving organisations the opportunity to add the vaccine verification spec into their own apps - such as an online ticket system, or an app used to access a gym - as an alternative to the Government's official verification app.
Mattr's work will all be behind the scenes. The ministry is responsible for managing the digital consumer channels, including managing this online portal that authenticates you as an individual and allows you to claim the pass and certificates.
All of the tech specs necessary for an organisation to build verification into its own app will be available for free, but Mattr will also offer its services on contract for in-house teams who want some help with customisation.
Auckland University research fellow and Matū partner Andrew Chen was broadly positive about the pending verification system.
Being QR code-based, it would suit both smartphone app users and the less digitally literate. "It looks like MOH will have systems for people to request a vaccine pass online or over the phone, and then either get an e-mail with a PDF to print themselves or get one posted to them. Also can be carried on your device in a secure wallet," he said.
"An easy way to think about how the vaccine pass works is that it is like a drivers license - instead of 'this person has passed a test and is allowed to operate a vehicle for 10 years' it says "this person has met the requirements to be considered fully vaccinated and is allowed to enter venues that require vaccination for [some period of time]".
A crucial factor is that the definition of "fully-vaccinated" will change over time, Chen told the Herald.
For example, once booster shots were introduced next year, vaccine passes would have to be updated - either through an app or by an updated version being printed out or mailed to a person.
"I think it is clear that the Ministry of Health has carefully considered privacy as one of the factors in the design of the vaccine pass, and the choice to go with a pass (which verifies that the person is allowed to enter) versus a certificate (which contains vaccine information that the venue operator has to verify and apply rules to). Where they have landed may not please everyone, but it is probably a legitimate choice given all the constraints that they are working with," Chen said.
This technology includes the use of cryptography to deliver content integrity, document authenticity, and privacy features that can be used in a wide variety of contexts.
"I would still like to see the Privacy Impact Assessment and the variety of public sector perspectives that would have informed these decisions, including clinical advice, human rights assessments, Māori perspectives, and privacy guidance, Chen added.
Mattr of trust
Mattr (pronounced "matter") was spun-out of Spark in February 2019.
Its mission was to chase opportunities arising from new technologies such as blockchain, self-sovereign identity, artificial intelligence, cross reality, and hyper-scale and edge computing.
Then Spark chief digital officer Claire Barber was appointed CEO of the Mattr. Barber holds a 6 per cent stake in the spinout, with the balance of shares owned by Spark.
Today, Mattr has just over fifty staff.
The Ministry of Health said the Spark subsidiary won a "closed competitive tender" to develop the technology underpinning the My Vaccine Pass system. The contract was awarded in August as part of a broader programme of work.
MoH's Dreyer said, "A Request for Proposal was released on July 9, 2021, to seven suppliers. The Ministry of Health standard procurement process was followed. Mattr was advised in August it was the preferred candidate, pending approvals, and the evaluation panel recommendation was approved on September 15, 2021. The contract was signed on October 13, 2021."
He would not give the amount, citing commercial sensitivity.
It's the second major win for the spin-out.
In its 2021 annual report, Spark revealed that Mattr was selected by the US Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to develop a capability to digitally issue and validate essential work and task licences for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Spark would not put a dollar value on either contract.
Mattr is Barber's passion project.
"I'd been concerned for quite a while about the shape of the internet. Phishers, scammers, bad actors and the big giants make for a pretty "interesting" landscape. Digital trust and privacy are such hard problems to solve, but should be fundamental to the next generation of the internet," she told the Herald over the weekend.
"That is our focus at Mattr and more than enough to get me to give up my previous day job. I'm all in on this and delighted to have the support and backing of Spark."