Boosting efficiencies and security in air travel: the new ICAO Health Master List for authenticating traveler health certificates

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ICAO has published its first Health Master List, a new data resource for States and aviation stakeholders to aid in the more efficient and secure authentication of traveler health certificates, including vaccination and test result certificates. In support of WHO recommendations, ICAO has embarked on an innovative Public Key Infrastructure collaboration with the Luxembourg State Agency, INCERT. The aim of the partnership is to address the urgent need for improved trust and processing of health documentation internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.

“The presentation of documentation related to COVID-19 health interventions has become commonplace since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many States originally issued health proofs appropriate for domestic and/or regional use cases,” commented ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar. “The result was a variety of different national or regional formats being deployed, and proliferating travel restrictions due to low levels of confidence among State border, immigration and health authorities in the validity of travelers’ health documents.”

The majority of health proofs issued globally, including the ICAO Visible Digital Seal for non-constrained environments (VDS-NC), include some form of digitally-signed barcode, with verification of the barcode requiring knowledge of the associated public key.

The new ICAO Health Master List is a compilation of public key certificates signed by ICAO, made publicly available through its website and regularly updated as more health proofs are issued and new public keys are required. ICAO is welcoming submissions of public key certificates associated with any health proof that may be currently used for international travel from all of its 193 Member States, irrespective of the specific format of the proof or the existing systems used for authentication of the proof.

There is no cost associated with inclusion of a certificate on the Health Master List. All public key certificates submitted will be verified before inclusion in the list, following strict procedures similar to those established for the ICAO PKD, in order to ensure trust in the contents.

“The Health Master List concept is based on the same principles as the generic ICAO Master List now used to verify electronic travel documents,” Secretary General Salazar clarified. “It will complement existing national and/or regional solutions and provide an essential international mechanism for sharing public key certificates in line with WHO recommendations.”

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