Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Whether in the workplace or the mall, people can expect that an opened-up world will involve more intrusive security measures and surveillance.

Why it matters: All the new coronavirus protocols that companies are considering for their workers and customers — from contact tracing and temperature-taking to heat mapping and "immunity passports" — have privacy and civil liberties implications.

Where it stands: While there's evidence that people are less concerned with privacy than before the pandemic hit — and more concerned with health — they still may not be ready for a world where their blood is tested for antibodies before boarding an airplane, as Dubai-based Emirates airlines has started doing.

  • The CEO of Delta, Ed Bastian, said the airline is considering "immunity passports" that would be required for boarding.

Other options could have a far broader reach.

  • Employers are entitled to mandate that workers get their temperature taken at the workplace (per a coronavirus-specific EEOC decision), report any symptoms to their boss, and get a COVID-19 vaccine if one is developed, per the WSJ.
  • Apple and Google are collaborating on an app-based system for contact tracing that "uses Bluetooth to determine if users have recently been in close proximity to someone with the coronavirus," Axios' Ina Fried reports.
  • While the tech giants envision an opt-in system, that would limit its utility, since it might not attract a critical mass of people.

Where it's going: Companies are going to be collecting a lot more information about people — through contactless payment systems, which will be in growing use as people avoid face-to-face transactions, and through the various technologies in development that will track people's virus exposure.

But the security of that information will be vulnerable to hacking or misuse, as well as public skepticism.

  • "For people to adopt a technology, it's very important to get privacy right," Omer Tene of the International Association of Privacy Professionals tells Axios. 'If there's the fear that it's creepy or spying on them — or even draining their battery — people won't opt in to it."
  • And in the same way that closed-circuit cameras stationed around London in advance of the Olympics became permanent fixtures, some surveillance measures to combat COVID-19 could turn out to be anything but temporary.
  • "Civil liberties rarely roll backwards," Cillian Kieran, CEO of the data privacy management company Ethyca, tells Axios.

The intrigue: Companies are still contemplating what measures they'll put in place for workers and customers once they reopen — and few have stated their plans openly yet. But many options under discussion would bump up against a hodgepodge of existing rules, like the medical privacy law HIPAA and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

  • Contact tracing services rely on databases like the ones that the CCPA allows people to remove themselves from, for example.
  • But erring too far on the side of privacy could expose companies to liability lawsuits from people who say they contracted COVID-19 on the job or in a store or restaurant.
  • For companies, "privacy is essential to getting the adoption and cooperation you need," Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, tells Axios.
  • "For any of these measures to succeed, employers need to figure how to ensure that employees don’t feel penalized by cooperating or reporting."

People need to feel like companies are doing things in the least intrusive way, being transparent in what's being collected and how it's used and making sure that data isn't held indefinitely, Sean Joyce, PwC's cybersecurity and privacy leader, tells Axios.

  • "Are you doing things to respect the privacy of each individual?" he says, "So it's not like there's a line or 20 people and you're saying, 'Hey, Sean — you registered 102 degrees, step out of line.'"

Be smart: Going forward, "we’re going to be forced to be more biosecure, because my infection could infect an entire village," James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Future, tells Axios.

  • People might exchange biosecurity information routinely — or even wear or carry a physical token signaling they're immune, he predicts.
  • "It sounds Orwellian to some, or draconian to others, but it'll protect lives."

Go deeper

Updated Sep 22, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Some 90,000 New York City children in pre-K and those with advanced disabilities went back to school for in-person classes on Monday.

The big picture: All other students in the city resumed classes online. Elementary schools are due to open on Sept. 29, with middle schools and high schools following on Oct. 1.

Updated Aug 4, 2020 - Health

The states where face coverings are mandatory

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday for people in public, as well as teachers and students going back to school.

The big picture: 34 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, have issued some form of a mask mandate as infections surge across the country.

Aug 7, 2020 - Health

Study finds COVID-19 antibodies prevalent in NYC health care workers

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

More than 13% of health care workers in the greater New York City area tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, according to a newly published study.

Why it matters: The rate at which health care professionals tested positive for antibodies is consistent with the rate of COVID-19 antibodies found among randomly tested adults in the state of New York. The data released Thursday "is important so [health care workers] can protect themselves, their patients, their colleagues, and their families," per JAMA researchers.

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