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When the hard lockdown eases, returning to work will be more closely watched than ever before:

  • Thermal cameras, which have the ability to measure body heat, have been installed at a large office tower in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers announced it is releasing a phone app for employers that give them the ability to track who employees are interacting with while in the office. This surveillance product has attracted interested requests from over 50 clients.
  • The Interpublic Group, a large advertising firm with over 20,000 employees, is considering instituting a procedure where workers are required to reveal medical data and other personal information not only about themselves, but also about family members.
  • Even before the coronavirus pandemic, office workers have become more familiar with pervasive security cameras and keycards that monitor entering and exiting buildings. But COVID-19 has amped up the security-tracking trend with building owners using the excuse that tracking people’s movements helps slow the spread of the virus. In other words, more surveillance equals more health and safety.
  • RXR, a large real estate business, is working on an app to track the movements of its employees through smartphones. The more distance one keeps from others, the higher the score posted on one’s phone. The company’s CEO stated, “We are using ourselves as the guinea pigs.”
  • Businesses are increasing the monitoring of people entering their buildings to help keep out those who might be sick. Some are considering requiring daily health questionnaires be filled out before entrance is allowed.
  • Steven Feldstein, who studies digital surveillance at Boise State University, stated recently, “We’re in a bit of a Wild West. In the absence of federal guidelines in the U.S. or other even kind of less explicit formal regulations, but just norms, it’s a little bit of a free for all right now in terms of who’s doing what.” Mr. Feldstein noted there are virtually no standards set for balancing the need for security and the rights of privacy.
  • Italy and Germany will be releasing contact-tracing apps developed by Apple and Google that claim not to impinge on users’ privacy rights by keeping all data on the user’s phone.

They point to the lack of a centralized database that maintains all recorded data. Domenico Arcuri, the head of Italy’s COVID-19 crisis management team, confirmed that by encrypting all data collected, citizens could be assured their privacy will be maintained.
France, the UK, and Norway have already launched apps that transmit tracking data from the user’s phone to a centralized data bank where it is stored. The claim is that by storing the data in a central location, health officials can be more effective in controlling spread of the virus.

  • The research group NS Tech reported on 22 April that over 40 COVID-19 contact-tracing apps have launched worldwide in 23 countries. Seventy percent of these use a centralized database where all data can be permanently stored and controlled by governments and health services.

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