Another Day in Paradise? Thinking Twice About Fake Vaccine Certificates

Since the reopening of NSW at 70% vaccination rates, patrons have had to provide proof of their double dose vaccination status before entering venues. This has, in turn, forced, and SMEs to check “vaccination passports” for compliance before allowing entry and service, but with reopening and survival still at the forefront, a fear of backlash over privacy and discrimination, and a lack of technical ability, a new form of opportunistic crime has emerged, which could pose serious consequences for unsuspecting venues.

Fines of up to $5,000 will apply to businesses that fail to “taking reasonable measures to stop unvaccinated people entering premises”. This includes having signs explaining entry requirements, Service NSW QR codes and staff checking vaccination status. The difficulty is that these businesses are also under an obligation only to accept ‘valid forms of evidence’.

Last month, security expert Vanessa Teague, from the Australian National University, suggested that both the NSW and VIC vaccine passports and Medicare certificates were too easily fabricated and “don’t prove anything”, which she believes makes it hard to “justify checking them”. She also said that “there are not really meaningful security features in any versions we have seen in Australia, with possibly the exception being for international travel.”

Service Australia confirmed that the current COVID-19 vaccination certificate does in fact contains anti-fraud measures such as an animated tick, shimmer effect on the coat of arms and a clock. However, Software engineer Richard Nelson, was able to produce a vaccination certificate (that had all of the anti-fraud measure’s listed by Service Australia) by tricking the Medicare Express Plus app. Furthermore, there have been illegal sales of COVID-19 vaccination certificates across NSW, ranging from fraudulent doctor-issued versions through to off-the-shelf online suppliers with turnaround times of only a matter of seconds.

The bad news for unvaxxed punters is that NSW Police are aware of this activity and are working with detectives from the State Crime Command’s Cybercrime Squad and other agencies to monitor and investigate fraudulent certificates being sold online.

Since these developments, the NSW government and Health Minister Brad Hazzard has confirmed that Hospitality and retail businesses will no longer be fined for granting entry to unvaccinated people and police will only step in to assist with enforcement when asked. Police Commissioner Fuller stated police officers’ roles would be to assist businesses who need help to enforce the mandate and will not be targeting business who fail to enforce the health orders. However, and as with other public health orders the subject of our previous posts, this does not stop them doing so, and the law as it stands is that they can and will prosecute SMEs and individuals at their discretion, meaning venues will still be under an obligation to effectively monitor and repeat for fear of being complicit or complacent, which could have wider implications, such as for the fit and proper person test for liquor licenses.

One thing that is clear is that a person who uses a false COVID-19 vaccination certificate could be fined or face jail time, under an amendment to the New South Wales public health order. It provides, at subclause 6.4(3):

“A person must not provide, display or produce to another person information or evidence, including vaccination evidence, purporting to show the person is a fully vaccinated person, unless the information or evidence is true and accurate,”

Individuals who fail to comply with these directions can be fined up to $5,000 or, if prosecuted in Court, fined up to $11,000 and / or face up to six months imprisonment. Ongoing penalties of up to $5,500 are available for each day the offence continues.

So if you are unvaccinated and are thinking of using a fake vaccination certificate, we suggest you double dose your thinking and reconsider your decision or potentially be fined or imprisoned for the offence.

If you are businesses that is still unsure of any privacy and discrimination laws around enforcing vaccine passports – please feel free to call our office today and we can assist you.

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