The Coronavirus and How it is Impacting Data Collection

At this point everybody has heard or encountered some sort of media covering the coronavirus. Companies all over the world and life itself seems to have come to a halt due to the Coronavirus or COVID-19. The Wall Street Journal(WSJ) spoke to various data privacy experts and lawyers who are dealing with the issue of employee privacy and the coronavirus pandemic to analyze and compare the importance of data privacy in times when companies can and or debating the use of employees’ data to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Should companies be using their employees’ data to scan where they’ve traveled to be safe, and is that morally just or even legal?

Corporations all across America are starting to enforce travel bans, mandatory travel receipts and recording of where the employee has been, and some are even starting to use body temperature scans as employees enter the building. What happens if an employee doesn’t want to give away private information such as health data or geological location data points? How can the company properly treat an employee who is suffering or is possibly spreading the virus if they don’t have access to that employee’s information?

How the EU is handling it: According to the lawyers who spoke to The WSJ, The General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) of the European Union(EU) states that businesses can only collect personal data for a legitimate, specific reason or purpose and must directly obtain the permission of individuals to use it. Lots of regulators and lawyers have told European businesses and companies to be careful of how much data they are collecting on their employees. While right now it seems important to collect as much as possible to combat the virus, it can also have major repercussions for them in the future. “It’s a global crisis; it’s serious. But it doesn’t necessarily justify a sort of free-for-all approach to data collection,” said Eduardo Ustaran, co-head of the privacy and cybersecurity practice at law firm Hogan Lovells, to WSJ.

How America is handling the virus: U.S. companies must comply with employment laws that prohibit them from asking about medical conditions but require them to maintain safe workplaces, according to the lawyers interviewed by WSJ. According to Nancy Inesta, a Los Angeles-based partner focused on employment law at Baker & Hostetler LLP, U.S. companies are relying on the employees to disclose whether they were exposed to health risks. U.S. employment law usually forbids employers from forcing workers to take medical exams, Ms. Inesta said, while forcing workers to report personal travel could breach their privacy rights. In the few exceptions though, businesses will require workers to report if they are exposed to the virus or work from home if the workplace is directly affected.

The Coronavirus has affected nearly every industry, cancelling and suspending almost every professional sports league, schools closing down, businesses telling employees to work from home, but for the most part the data collection industry has not skipped a beat. Right now is an incredibly important time to educate yourself on private data and how you control and choose what information of yours is shared. Make sure to be constantly washing hands and avoid public places!