As modern technology continues to evolve, the lines between privacy and security have become immeasurably blurred. COVID-19 has raised questions about the best ways to balance employee health and safety with privacy rights, for example. As noted in The National Law Review, it’s generally accepted that the “principle of protecting employees’ health is paramount in relation to employee privacy concerns.”
Indeed it should be. Unfortunately, the grim reality is that security and surveillance in the name of public health and safety have a dark side, in regards to human rights. For starters, surveillance helps keep institutional racism afloat and helps perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Governmental entities, such as Medicaid, are more likely to scrutinize people of color and request additional identity verification of those who are not white and not privately insured.
But there’s another side of the coin. Surveillance measures protect companies from theft and may help fast-track insurance claims stemming from accidental or intentional damage to equipment and property. The transportation industry is especially prone to using video monitoring as a security measure, from cargo transport fleets to public transportation systems.
So where do we draw the line? How far is too far when one’s privacy is compromised for the sake of public health, or even corporate profits? Finding a balance between privacy and security, where both can co-exist, is perhaps the best way to ensure public safety over the long-term.
Governing bodies and well-meaning employers alike must be held accountable for any measures put in place that compromise employee privacy. To wit, the possibility of data bias should be limited with regards to personal employee data, and employee privacy should be prioritized over profit margins.
How Much Security is Too Much?
The monitoring and control of citizens are all in a day’s work for many of the world’s governmental entities. Yet the extent of surveillance may not be apparent. While Londoners are well aware of the estimated 500,000 cameras that virtually blanket the city, recording their every move, some organizations are much more secretive about their security measures.
In July 2018, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) revealed that it had quietly increased the surveillance of ordinary Americans. Ironically called Quiet Skies, the surveillance program involved the use of undercover air marshals as well as increased scrutiny of identity documents such as passports. The biggest surprise of the Quiet Skies announcement is that the program kicked off in 2010, yet few Americans were even aware.
To some citizens, the Quiet Skies announcement came as little surprise. Instead, it served as an example of yet another abuse of power committed by governmental entities in the U.S. And whistleblowers are keen to expose civil rights violations committed by those organizations, from the TSA to the FBI and ICE. Unfortunately, the rights of the general population continue to be impeded, and citizens are increasingly taking the advice of Thomas Jefferson.
The nation’s third president famously implored his fellow American citizens that it is the people’s duty to challenge any government with a “long train of abuse” against the general population. If the protests and demonstrations of 2020 are any indication, the concept of “security” is going out of style, to be replaced by individual human rights. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, leaving a large chunk of Americans susceptible to human rights violations in the name of security.
Safety and Security on the Road
As far as personal rights and security go, few surveillance tactics are as controversial as small video cameras — specifically dash and body cams. The use of surveillance cameras is increasing across the nation, and six U.S. cities top the list of the world’s most surveilled, including Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. On a national level, dash and body cams are also in widespread use, used by police officers and commercial truck drivers alike.
For both parties, dash cams have numerous benefits. Notably, dash cams serve as an unbiased witness of events ranging from a roadway collision to a routine traffic stop. Despite the security benefits of dash cams, however, their use may constitute an invasion of privacy and may not be legal. In several states, including California and Illinois, an individual cannot be recorded without consent, even in the event of a collision.
Thus, transportation companies should note the relevant electronic surveillance laws that apply in their respective state before choosing to install dash cams on vehicles. Further, individuals living in states with more stringent surveillance laws should invoke or revoke their right to be recorded, as appropriate. This is especially important in the event that individual human rights are being compromised.
Data Collection, In and Out of the Workplace
Cameras are just the beginning when it comes to increased surveillance in the name of security. The ubiquity of the internet means that much of our daily work is done online, giving employers easy access to personal information, with the exception of health records.
However, that seems to be changing in the wake of COVID-19. For the sake of employee health, a growing number of employers are monitoring the public health of individual employees. To some, that action toes the “highly offensive” line, the legal terminology that defines invasion of privacy, yet companies continue to act with “overall employee public health” in mind.
It’s important to note that it’s possible for companies to falsely collect and interpret data, resulting in unwarranted policies and/or surveillance methods, due to inherent bias. This type of data bias can be caused by one’s preconceived notions on a subject, such as the idea that a virus is highly contagious, or that it spreads more easily within certain populations.
As the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact nearly every aspect of society, the subject of public health is at the forefront of nearly everyone’s minds. But we shouldn’t be too quick to eschew personal liberty in favor of security, even during a global pandemic. As a society, we should weigh the pros and cons of various surveillance equipment, such as dash cams, and methodologies to better balance human rights with the need for security.
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