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Keeping a Cool Head in a Storm

May 20, 2024 by Alistair Enser

The results of my LinkedIn poll are in and with more offices, pubs, restaurants, shops and other venues now opening, is it time for more joined up thinking about what happens to our disclosed data?

Last week I initiated a poll to find out how people in my network felt about handing over their personal details to pubs and restaurants for track and trace purposes. It was reasonably close, with the ayes taking 42 per cent of the vote and the noes 58 per cent. It also provoked some insightful comments, which reflected a range of opinions and the concerns that a significant number of the population have about how their personal data could be used (or abused).

Number crunching

I wasn’t particularly surprised with the results and a few of those who voted no have since told me that they have been to pub. However, it does highlight a positive shift from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey the week before, which found that 60 per cent of adults would feel uncomfortable eating indoors at a restaurant and only 20 per cent would be happy to have a sit down meal as restrictions ease. That said, it appears that some establishments are not asking for personal information at all. Would you be more concerned that their lack of data increases your risk, with no track and trace capability?

So, is the opening of pubs and restaurants a step in the right direction or simply a path to a second spike? The answer is way beyond my powers of prediction but the easing of restrictions is heralding a return to something resembling normality, with the latest Google Mobility Data stating just -10 per cent below the baseline figure for places of work. From an economic point of view, this should be welcomed, particularly since the current recession could feel far more intense than the aftermath of 2008.

Cover up

The big news this week was that wearing a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England is to become mandatory from 24th July. Why now and not four months ago is a reasonable question to ask, as is why they don’t have to be worn in offices, restaurants and bars? These latest rules will be enforced by the police, with anyone disregarding them at risk of a fine of up to £100.

Even though the use of face coverings will be uncomfortable in more ways than one for some people, we should accept that it is for the greater good. That said, within retail in particular, there is concern over what employees are expected to, and indeed can, do in terms of enforcement, with a number of incidents where non-compliance has been met with violence having been reported.

As I have mentioned before, technology – ‘the right technology’ – can help, but as you see from my image above, unless I have hypothermia, the wrong technology is a poor investment, delivering misleading results. On a positive note, Reliance Protect is already seeing a significant upturn in interest for its body worn camera solutions, which offer evidential standard audio and video from the perspective of an employee. Just as importantly, people may be less aggressive to retail staff if they know they are being filmed, which brings a pacifying effect to a potentially volatile situation.

Rules and regulation

When it comes to the disclosure of personal data, however, the long-term implications are significant. To highlight this sensitivity, there was a furore when it was announced that Public Health England initially wanted to keep personal data of people with coronavirus for 20 years.

The debate is gathering pace, as is whether what is currently being done contravenes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Even pre-booking apps that store data securely could fall foul of hackers, additionally the temptation for organisations to use it for marketing purposes might prove too tempting in this tough trading environment. Then there’s the issue of data management, storage duration and disposal to consider.

How much will technology allow companies to fulfil their ‘safety and risk’ obligations while also managing, as best as possible, the trust, integrity and legitimacy issues behind data use? Only time will tell. It might even be that we have to reappraise what is considered an acceptable level of intrusion into our privacy as a result – something that would go against the direction of travel over the last few years.

Decision time

We all have a number of complex decisions to make about our personal activities. Organisations have equally important issues to consider and it will be interesting to see how office based businesses react to the prime minister’s ‘back to work’ blueprint, which is anticipated to mark the end of the work from home policy from 1st August. Social distancing will still need to be at the forefront of many strategies and while this may seem simple enough, different businesses will have different concerns and needs.

Likewise, in education, some universities that are looking to open up again in September are reporting record levels of student applications (driven by international students avoiding the US), and clearly the need to install processes and technology in place to keep students, staff and visitors safe must be critical.

Calm before the Storm

As retailers accelerate, as offices open, and as universities start to welcome students back to their campuses there will inevitably be demands upon the security industry to provide solutions. It may not be full steam ahead just yet, but we are on a knife edge of opportunity and expectation. Some of this will be limited by supply chain, delays in construction, or other trades, so the knock-on effects may be with us for a while. Agility and speed will be key in future success.

The shape of things to come

Easing lockdown is raising more questions than it’s answering. Nobody wants to live in a surveillance state, and there is definitely a question mark over how our data is recorded, managed and deleted as we enter this new era. Just as importantly, there needs to be clear guidance regarding the enforcement of laws and regulations pertaining to the wearing of face coverings. I hope that the UK population’s much touted ‘common sense’ combines with a high level of personal and social responsibility to keep us all safe.

If you would like to find out more please sign up for our webinar entitled Technology in a Post Pandemic World – on Wednesday 5th August at 1pm.