Businesses throughout the country are beginning to slowly re-open and employees are returning to their offices. While the everyday tasks will be returning to “business as usual,” the precautions that employees must now take are anything but normal. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are adopting new technology to check an employee’s health and prevent co-workers from getting too close to one another. These advancements are considered to be essential in allowing for a safe work environment, but concerned citizens believe this technology is infringing upon their privacy.
Face Scanning and Contact Tracing
The idea of a contact tracing app to alert someone when they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 has been in the works for months. A new Pew Research poll found that 62% of those surveyed believed it would be “somewhat” or “Very unacceptable for the government to track cell phone data to ensure people follow social distancing protocols.
On the other hand, more than 52% of respondents believed it would be somewhat or very acceptable for the government to track the cell phones of individuals who have contracted COVID-19 to see how the pandemic is spreading. In addition to the contact tracing app, some companies are adopting new forms of technology both in the workplace and in communal areas.
Airports have introduced thermal imaging cameras that can identify when someone has an elevated body temperature. Other businesses have implemented facial recognition when employees enter the building to ensure they are wearing a facial covering. Another company in Germany implemented a bracelet sensor that alerts someone when they are too close to another person. While these innovative changes may help in determining safety protocols during the pandemic, there are privacy issues to consider.
Fighting Back Against Personal Data Collection
In California, state legislators are debating about regulating the use of technology. In it, companies and public agencies would be allowed to feed people’s facial data into a recognition system if they believe the person may have engaged in criminal activity. In this case, the entity would not have to ask permission from the person in question. While not directly related to the pandemic, this legislation could affect how people are tracked as the COVID-19 response continues.
Other states like Florida are using a thermal-scanning face camera to look for sweating, fevers, and skin discoloration. Athena Security company in Texas is pitching a similar product to grocery stores, voting locations, and hospitals. Local lawmakers across the country have been debating the use of facial recognition technology before the pandemic and many have adopted laws that ban such technology in public spaces.
While the legislation in California has placed limits on how the facial data is used and stored, few details on the schematics of storage and usage of the data have been revealed. Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union said that this level of facial recognition will not only invade privacy but will marginalize communities as facial recognition technologies have a history of not being able to properly recognize the faces of people of color.
Privacy in a Changing World
Some of these technological advancements have already begun to take shape and businesses are considering this technology as a part of their re-opening. People are eager to get the world back to some sense of normalcy, but these potential invasions of privacy may be long-term issues after the pandemic has passed.
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