February 2, 2020

WHO Confirmed: Data Privacy Matters, Even During a Global Pandemic

JT Sison

“Yes, I would say this is probably the first epidemic or pandemic of the 21st century in which the full power of information technology, social media, and artificial intelligence is being applied to almost every aspect of this response . . .”

That was how Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, began to answer a question he was asked 29 minutes into the March 25, 2020, COVID-19 virtual press conference. (Read the full transcript here.) The question was whether or not the WHO is actively collaborating with the ITU—the International Telecommunications Union; the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies—on advising countries in “using interactive websites, apps that permit self-diagnosis, back-track movements of infected persons.”

Ryan went on to say that there are a number of collaborations on developing applications for surveillance, predictive modelling, and analytics that support case detection, case reporting, case follow-up, tracking, and tracing for COVID-19. In fact, the WHO has worked with a consortium of international partners over the last five years to build its Go.Data platform, an outbreak investigation tool for field data collection and visualization during public health emergencies. Go.Data has already made tracing Ebola outbreaks faster and more discreet.

Real-Time Data = Real Value, but Real Risk

We know that real-time data from mobile technologies can feed information to organizations around the world working toward a common goal. Auto makers use it to learn how to make safer cars. Insurance companies use it to offer lower rates. Weather agencies rely on it to warn people in the path of a hurricane. Today, the common goal is to stop the spread of COVID-19. There is no doubt now that data is our future.

This begs an important question that people are already asking: If data—when more and faster is better—can save the world, do we really have time to stop and worry about data privacy?

“Stop and worry.” It’s unfortunate—and somewhat unrealistic—to think that you have to stop what you are doing in order to protect data privacy. But that’s a common attitude, and, in fact, it’s why we see so many data breaches in the headlines every week and why governments are racing to pass more stringent and comprehensive data privacy laws. Businesses have been slow to make data privacy a priority because they think either (a) getting into compliance with data privacy laws will cost too much, take too much time, and be too disruptive to the business, or (b) they will be prevented from using the personal data they’ve been amassing all these years or forced to stop collecting personal data altogether. From our perspective, neither is the case.

Don’t Discount Data Privacy

Yes, data belongs to people who have a right to their privacy. Yes, using that data to stop a pandemic is the right thing to do. Even using that data to improve the customer experience or to build better products and services—whatever they may be—is the right thing to do. However, we don’t have to throw data privacy out the window to achieve our goals. Ryan reinforced this message during the press conference:

“We do always have to have in the back of our minds—especially when it comes to collecting information on individual citizens or tracking their whereabouts or movements—that there are always very serious data protection, human rights principles that are involved,” said Ryan. “We’re very, very cognizant of that and we want to ensure that all products that are developed are done in the most sensitive way possible and that we never step beyond the principles of individual freedoms, rights for individuals and for society.”

Privacy is a Right

At PKWARE, we believe in the power of data to do good. We also believe that privacy is a right. This pandemic is our own best—and worst—use case. Our personal data provisioning software is needed now more than ever. In a nutshell, it finds personal data wherever it exists, even in places where no one thought it would be; protects the privacy of its owner appropriately based on how and by whom it needs to be used; keeps track of it as it moves within and between organizations; and monitors it specifically for unauthorized or abnormal access. Most importantly, all that can be done in one seamless process, behind the scenes, in near real time. That means data can be made available faster to teams who need to use it quickly.

Keep your data protected at all times and in all places. Find out how with a free demo.

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