As we start to look towards exit strategies from the current lockdowns within the UK, Europe and the US, there is much anxiety amongst large parts of government, health services and law enforcement agencies, as well as the population at large, as to how to prevent a second spike in coronavirus cases.
While organisations are rightly focused on their staff, their well being and how they are able to operate in different ways into the future, there are a growing number of technologies out there that may help, them, their staff and the general public.
The technologies being discussed to help with lockdown exits, enable individuals to maintain social distancing as well as monitor contact tracing. Organisations are also able to build a greater understanding of individual movement across different geographical locations, build a view of localised sentiment, all with an aim to help inform reactive and responsive decisions.
Tech giants Apple and Google, for some weeks have had their reports available to all which display changes of transport usage since the beginning of the year utilising mapping data gathered from phones. Apple’s Mobility Trends Reports and Google’s Community Mobility Reports are largely similar in functionality – showing huge changes in use of all forms of transport.
Additionally, in Germany there was the government initiated public hackathon in March, #WirVsVirus, and amongst this there has emerged the Social Distancing Dashboard, which is a visualisation of data aggregated from public webcams, laser scanners counting pedestrians, urban bicycle counters, live car traffic data and Google Maps check-ins.
This visualization from everyonecounts.de compares the amount of bicycle traffic according to selected German federal states and districts.
We have also seen the deployment of smart technologies from private enterprise innovators such as Taoglas where, in a private setting, such as an office environment or a large food supermarket, heat maps can be produced in real-time, utilising Wi-Fi data, of how people may be clustering in given areas and therefore how a company can respond to such events.
Much has been made in the UK media this week of the new NHS app being trialled in the Isle of Wight, which will track and trace individuals who have become a victim of COVID-19 and therefore enable better tracking amongst whom the virus may be spreading through contact tracing.
These are just a handful of examples of the many innovations and initiatives that are out there now and which can be further utilised to help the exit strategies of governments out of the lockdown phases – such innovative working and utilisation of technologies is clearly an important foundation block for these.
Privacy concerns and legislation
Inevitably though, with any such use of these technologies comes the concerns over privacy, control and use of individuals’ data. These are valid concerns and all the more intriguing as in most cases the data is being gleaned from large tech providers where users are opting into submitting their data, probably anonymised, knowingly or, usually not – how many times have you read Google’s terms and conditions?
Even more interesting for us is the legislative framework that could allow law enforcement agencies to utilise the data, with public consent, to help maintain certain levels of social distancing. This throws up many questions around public consent, trust, and how any data could be used.
This is a can of worms that has always sat around the use of new technologies and associated data gathering, but in these times of radical change, these issues need to be brought to a head, if only temporarily, to ensure we can give the best possible support to our law enforcement agencies to do their job in extremely challenging times.