Intermittent social distancing is next: security and privacy challenges are set to stay

A report from Imperial College predicts a period of intermittent social distancing — privacy and security must become a priority

Millions of us are working from home — with serious privacy and security implications. But will this just be a temporary thing? What about social distancing? The UK regulator the ICO has suggested that it will take a pragmatic approach to privacy and security.  As a result, some companies may be tempted to assume that as lockdowns and corresponding remote working will be temporary, they don’t need to lose much sleep over privacy and security.

A report from Imperial College, however, warned that that we might see social distancing turned up and down, at intermittent intervals, for some time. That means remote working is here for some time. And the longer this continues, the more likely remote working will continue at elevated levels long after the crisis ends.

The Imperial College report, published in March and led by Professor Neal Ferguson, warned of a potentially disastrous second wave in Coronavirus infections unless governments take extreme actions to reduce the spread of the virus. It seems likely that the Imperial report motivated both the UK and US governments to change their approach to the virus.

Less attention has been paid to another part of the report, however.  It suggested that once ICU admissions fall below a certain level, (say 50 a day) social distancing can be relaxed, but then immediately re-introduced once admissions return to a another certain level (say 100 cases a day) in a certain region.

This process could continue until a vaccine is available.

But even during the period of temporary easing, there will of course need to be widespread testing and no doubt surveillance to track the movements of people in the period leading up to the positive test result.

In other words, remote working on a mass scale is here until at least a vaccine is found. So for that matter is surveillance.

Don’t take your finger off the privacy and security requirements, seduced by the idea this is a short-term issue only. It isn’t and the potential for a breach or privacy transgressions as a result will be a constant threat.


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