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A testing time for privacy?

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

In writing these articles over the last few months I have spoken a lot about technology, for which I make no apology. This week I am interested in your views again, having conducted a recent poll about our willingness to share data personal information in exchange for a drink or meal out. Please share your opinion by visiting: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CGG668V

Once you have read this week’s article, please visit the polls. I am particularly keen to know whether you are more or less comfortable with different organisations and their use of your data.

Scanning for symptoms

The context for this poll is an article I came across on the BBC’s website which outlines some of the procedures that businesses are adopting to ensure their employees are safe to return to the workplace. In particular, I was interested to see the suggestion that ‘most’ workers support these efforts to keep them safe, even if it involves sharing medical information and being subjected to tests that might once have been thought intrusive.

These tests include thermal scans, questionnaires about symptoms and recent movements outside the workplace, and even wearing devices that alert the wearer when they come too close to other individuals in the workplace. Some firms are even testing their employees for the virus itself: Amazon is said to be building its own COVID-19 testing facility. This raises the thorny issue of how an employer protects the treasure trove of employee DNA created as a result, and which could offer up genetic insights way beyond simply revealing the presence of COVID-19 itself.

Striking a balance

As a lawyer pointed out in the piece, “If your employer is acting properly, in good faith, I don’t think we should be too worried,” says Anna Elliott at Osborne Clarke. “What it shouldn’t be is a ‘smash and grab’ to get as much information on your employees as possible.” She draws a line, for example, at employers asking their workers who they live with and what they do outside work to identify any associated risk.

I myself am not against screening and testing. As I mentioned recently, I myself had a temperature screen when I visited a restaurant recently. That said, we saw from my first poll that many were less happy, just for a beer or a meal out… but what about work?

I have no doubt that nationwide we will see more flexible working as a result of COVID, having demonstrated it can be an option in many cases. As an employer, I am also keen to ensure our workplace is safe for people as they return. At Reliance High-Tech we have been able to function very well remotely, but I have talked about Zoom fatigue before, and I am concerned that replacing those serendipitous meetings at the mythical watercooler with back to back formal Zoom or Teams meetings isn’t sustainable long term and can bring new stresses to employees. We need to strike a balance and preserve effective formal and informal communication in a safe environment.

A return to normality must involve a gradual, well-organised and safe return to the office, but the sooner we can wake up the economy the better it will be for everyone. In doing so, a balance must be sought between battling the infection and maintaining civil liberties.

Time to vote!

What do you think, though? Are you happy for your employer, a business or another organisation to scan and screen you for COVID-19 infection and test for symptoms to gain entry? And are you comfortable that these organisations would use this data responsibly? https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CGG668V

I am very interested in your opinion and will share the overall anonymised results!