CoronaCheck app

Imagine having a mobile app that acts as a vaccination certificate? With nearly two million apps available for download worldwide, the grim age of Covid-19 has ushered in a new technological opportunity for people to gain access to places that require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test in order to enter. Such places include festivals, night clubs, sporting and other events that have the tendency to draw crowds. The new CoronaCheck app allows users to download a QR code that will indicate that they have been fully vaccinated, have tested negative for Covid-19, or have recently recovered from the virus.

As countries in the European Union continue to impose strict travel restrictions to combat Covid-19, from 1 July 2021 the CoronaCheck App can be used as a Corona passport to visit other European countries. The app provides two separate codes, one for national use valid within the Netherlands, and one for international use valid for travelers within the EU. For international travel, the mobile app provides the same information through its generated QR code: proof of Covid-19 vaccination, proof that you have received a negative test result in the last 72 hours, or have recovered from the virus within the last six months – showing they have natural antibodies against the virus.

Funded and produced by the Dutch Central Government, the free CoronaCheck app was introduced in June for use by Dutch nationals to show the result of their Covid-19 tests. This allowed them entry to events such as football games, clubs etc. that tend to be crowded, and which are considered high-risk during the global pandemic. The app connects to the databases of the GGD and RIVM to retrieve personal data proving that people not at risk of Covid-19: either their vaccination dates, their negative test result or a positive corona test carried out by the GGD. As of 1 July, this health information, readable through a QR code, can also be used for international travel. If a person does not have any protection against Covid – no vaccine, no negative test and no previous infection – a QR code will not be generated.

In order to make a connection between the app and the GGD or RIVM databases, the user will first have to download the app. Then, they need to log into the app using their DigiD, the identity management platform that government agencies in the Netherlands use to verify the identity of Dutch citizens. This will then download their corona-related information into the app and generate a QR code. The QR code can only be used in combination with a valid ID, allowing the inspector to verify the identity of the user on the app and on their documents.

While there have been reports that people attempted to use the screenshot of someone else’s negative Covid-19 test to gain entry to crowded spaces, the CoronaCheck app is not that easy to crack. Firstly, as already mentioned, the QR code must be shown alongside an identity card. In addition to the QR code, the app also shows on the screen brief details of the user, including their initials and part of their date of birth. The inspector should be able to match this with the presented ID. This helps significantly eliminate the risk of app users using the information of others. Finally, in order to prevent making a screenshot, the app shows a moving image (a bike riding over the QR code) that will not show up in a screenshot. Moreover, the QR code is only valid for a few minutes.

However, as the recent rise in corona cases has shown, the system is not watertight. First, some people found it impossible to generate a QR code. For example, those who have had corona already and therefore only need one vaccination could not get the system to work. Furthermore, making screenshots turned out to be possible after all, as many people managed to enter clubs with fake QR codes. Clearly, the system has its teething problems. For now, nightclubs and festivals have been closed again, but at least the CoronaCheck app is still in use for international travel. Hopefully, at least part of our holidays will not be spoilt.

Written by Seringe S.T. Touray