Have we given up too much in the name of safety?

December 03, 2020
Technology has undoubtedly taken a front and center role to keep the pandemic in check, with applications such as safe entry or contract tracing. At the same time, to soothe growing concerns about data privacy, governments have assured citizens that only the minimum and critical data is being captured.
However, not all organizations have put in place data protection policies and solutions needed even as they collect more data from their customers and employees – all in the name of the pandemic.

Especially now, it is imperative for organizations to clearly define the role of technology in ensuring social safety, whilst balancing the need to protect citizen’s data privacy. As we’ve recently found through Milestone’s “Video technology amid COVID-19” study, there is definitely more that can and should be done by industry players to explain to the public how technology is being used to support safer and smarter cities.
No ‘herd immunity’ when it comes to data protection
I was encouraged when the results of our study showed that eight in ten Singaporeans are receptive to the usage of video technology, such as thermal imagining cameras and crowd management video analytics. The study also found that having knowledge of the benefits of video technology and the privacy measures being put in place are key to gaining acceptance.  

However, there is still a significant portion of the population that is unfamiliar with the purpose and benefits of such solutions. In fact, 27 percent of respondents were still sceptical and did not feel that the benefits of video technology outweigh their personal privacy needs. These respondents also felt that there are insufficient regulatory measures in place to deter abuse of video technology.  

This tells us that there might be a potential loss in public support for the use of tech monitoring measures, should public trust be compromised due to negligence in ensuring data protection.  

Establishing consumer trust must continue to be top-of-mind for businesses, even as video technologies and contact tracing become increasingly prevalent. This shift in consumer mindset does not give businesses a license to misbehave. Instead, they must work together with regulatory bodies and technology partners to respect individual privacy and comply with data protection regulations.
Digital ‘Personal Protective Equipment’ for data privacy
The good news is that the use of video technology is more accepted when personally identifiable information is removed.

And this is where Milestone Systems together with partners can value add! There is a range of solutions that are now available to ensure data protection requirements are met. Such solutions in the market provide operators with the ability to anonymize data through privacy masking, data purging and much more.  

Beyond this, as industry leaders, we need to continue to help businesses educate the public on these tech measures. This could be as easy as putting up signs to inform and assure the public that no video data would be stored, or for how long and for what purpose. As consumers remain vigilant about how businesses are using their personal data, businesses must prioritize data protection and practice full transparency to build greater trust in technologies that keep our communities safe, be it with video solutions or other forms of technology. They will need to adapt to new consumer attitudes around safety and health, work together with regulatory bodies and technology partners to find ways to maintain individual privacy and comply with data protection regulations at the same time.
Taking a stand on the responsible use of technology

At Milestone, we believe video can be used as a force for good. We see it coming to the fore as major support for local businesses, governments and citizens alike in these challenging times. Innovations in technology should be celebrated but being part of the industry means we must acknowledge our role in developing new technologies responsibly.

The Copenhagen Letter is a manifesto signed by Milestone Systems along with various entrepreneurs, designers and philosophers to call for better practices in technology and design. We have added the Copenhagen Clause to our software licensing agreements to encourage users to use them responsibly. To put our commitment to practice, any misuse of our software, in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would result in immediate violation of the license and immediate termination.  

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and growth of video technology across industries, from entertainment and retail to transportation, and even in the public sector. We believe that leveraging these technologies offer businesses not just continuity, but a host of other benefits. However, these benefits will only be actualized when businesses prioritise data privacy and the well-being of consumers.

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Benjamin Low
Vice President, APAC
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