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Friend or foe: establishing the correct use case for technology

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

At a time when we at Reliance High-Tech are working with data centres across Europe to keep them secure and operational, I am reminded once again of the challenges around data sharing, privacy, productivity and the future of the economy post-Brexit. It’s safe to say there’s a lot on at the moment!

It also interests me that two distinct views are emerging about how to manage the pandemic, and how technology is being employed as a result. On the one hand, Maureen from Barnsley has gained a lot of attention by evoking the blitz spirit and urging everyone to get back to work before the economy crumbles.

On the other, local lockdowns are increasing in number and severity, with the purchase of non-essential items (whatever they may be?!) now banned in Wales. I find it interesting that measures which, only six months ago, would have been considered to breach our civil liberties, now seem to be widely accepted.

The results are in

To accompany last week’s article I ran a survey which asked if respondents accepted technological measures such as phone and vehicle tracking to enforce restrictions on movement between areas where infection is low, and into those under lockdown. I have to admit to being surprised by the results, which were overwhelmingly in favour of these measures.

At the time of writing, more than two in three (67%) support tracking mobile phones and notifying users (but not enforcement agencies) if they enter or leave a higher-tiered area. Nearly eight in ten (79%) respondents support the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to track drivers entering or leaving a high risk area. A massive 88% of respondents believe that tracking users by mobile phone or their cars by ANPR would drive positive behaviour and reduce the spread of infection.

It might be we were onto something because, over the weekend Police stationed vehicles at crossing points into Wales to discourage those entering the country from coronavirus ‘hot spots’. The technology solution I proposed did not of course go this far, but it’s remarkable that at a time when, as an industry, we are seeing greater acceptance of technological solutions and the repurposing of older legacy systems to obtain more value, survey results also reveal widespread support for technology that might previously have been dismissed.

Are people approaching a point when they reason that they don’t want to be spied on, but that some form of surveillance to contain the virus is preferable to being locked inside? There is a potential change in dynamics that doesn’t necessarily suggest a surveillance state is the right way to go, but given our current requirements, it would appear that we might be willing to give up some freedoms to protect others.

The use case for technology

That said, and as I have warned in the past, we have to be very clear on the use case for any technology that tracks and traces our movements, and so has implications in terms of privacy. Are we making an exception for tools that we might deem an intrusion of privacy, but which are being used for the greater good?

Perhaps, but at the other end of the argument lies the introduction of tools that check when home workers log on and monitor their online activity. I cannot see how this technology can be the best solution to the current challenges that organisations face. If you build a workforce on trust, everyone’s commitment and ability to do the job will be a given. Using Big Brother tools to monitor activity shouldn’t be required. And would do more damage to productivity if adopted, anyway.

Of course, it’s often the same technology behind the solutions that are keeping us safe, and which are accepted as a result – and those that undermine trust and infringe on our civil liberties. The technology is simply being used in very different ways, and with different outcomes in mind.

As the results of last week’s survey show, establishing, communicating and enforcing a correct use case for technology has never been more important.

Stay safe!