Emma Garland writes…
Many countries have now been in some form of lockdown for a considerable length of time. As some of the lockdown measures are slowly being eased, one of the possible solutions to prevent a “second wave” is the implementation of temperature checks in shops and workplaces. This involves placing a thermometer on an individual’s forehead. Of course if the temperature is recorded or there is another way the individual can be identified, it will involve processing health data. Care must be taken to consider the GDPR and privacy implications.
Apple reopened stores across Germany on 11th May with extra safety procedures, including temperature checks and social distancing. It is now facing a probe by a regional German data protection regulator into whether its plan to take the temperature of its store customers violates GDPR.
The benefits of temperature check are self-evident. By detecting members of the public or staff who have a high temperature, and not permitting them to enter the store or workplace, staff have less risk of close contact with people who may have COVID 19. Temperature checks are just one small part of stopping the spread of COVID 19 and can be intrusive. What is the lawful basis for processing such data? Art 6(1)(d) of GDPR allows processing where it is:
“…is necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject or of another natural person”
Of course “data concerning health” is also Special Category Data and requires an Article 9 condition to ensure it is lawful. Is a temperature check necessary to comply with employment obligations, for medical diagnosis or for reasons of public health?
All conditions under Article 6 and 9 must satisfy the test of necessity. There are many causes of a high temperature not just COVID 19. There have also been doubts over the accuracy of temperature readings. They take skin temperature, which can vary from core temperature, and do not account for the incubation phase of the disease where people may be asymptomatic.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has produced guidance on workplace testing which states:
“Data protection law does not prevent you from taking the necessary steps to keep your staff and the public safe and supported during the present public health emergency.
But it does require you to be responsible with people’s personal data and ensure it is handled with care.”
The ICO suggests that “legitimate interests” or “public task” could be used to justify the processing of personal data as part of a workplace testing regime. The former will require a Legitimate Interests Assessment, where the benefit of the data to the organisation is balanced against the risks to the individual. In terms of Article 9, the ICO suggests the employment condition, supplemented by Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act 2018. The logic used here is that employment responsibilities extend to compliance wide range of legislation, including health and safety.
More generally, the ICO says that that technology which could be considered privacy intrusive should have a high justification for usage. It should be part of a well thought out plan, which ensures that it is an appropriate means to achieve a justifiable end. alternatives should also have been fully evaluated. The ICO also states:
“If your organisation is going to undertake testing and process health information, then you should conduct a DPIA focussing on the new areas of risk.”
A Data Protection Impact Assessment should map the flow of the data including collection, usage, retention and deletion as well as the associated risks to individuals.
Some companies are even using thermal cameras as part of COVID 19 testing.
The Surveillance camera Commissioner (SCC) and the ICO have worked together to update the SCC DPIA template, which is specific to surveillance systems.
As shops begin to open and the world establishes post COVID 19 practices, many employers and retailers will be trying to find their “new normal”. People will also have to decide what they are comfortable with. Temperature should be part of a considered approach evaluating all the regulatory and privacy risks.
Emma Garland is a Data Governance Officer at North Yorkshire County Council and a blogger on information rights. This and other GDPR developments will be covered in our new online GDPR update workshop. Our next online GDPR Practitioner Certificate course is fully booked. A few places left on the course starting on 2nd July.