Privacy and Contact Tracing in the Workplace


This week, Identiv, Inc., announced the availability of Hirsch Velocity Software with Contact Tracing. Hirsch launched this free feature to support worldwide office re-openings. 

For privacy-minded companies and individuals, the idea of contact tracing raises concerns. Few would argue that contact tracing is not an effective tool for stemming the spread of viruses. Even so, there are valid concerns about how information gathered during contact tracing could infringe upon individual civil liberties; if not now, at some time in the future. Trust in the government’s ability to understand and plan relative to the current COVID-19 pandemic is low. Too many models and predictions have been inaccurate and political motivations appear to interfere with the dissemination of a clear and concise message from government officials at all levels and from all political ideologies. 

On Wednesday, the tech giants Google and Apple rolled out a COVID-19 exposure notification system. This unified programming interface will allow public health departments to create their own contract tracing applications. 

To be clear, Google and Apple are not building contact tracing apps; rather, they are providing the technology needed to enable public health agencies around the world to build their own apps.

Smartphone-based digital contact tracing is faster than traditional human-to-human methods. It will, when, or if, adopted by citizens en masse, provide the ability to track exposure in crowded environments or contact with strangers that traditional methods just can’t provide. But this new digital contact tracing technology was never intended to replace the more traditional tried and tested methods, rather only to augment them.

So what of contact tracing in smaller, more controlled environments like the workplace?

As the world returns to work following the months-long shutdown, the most likely place for the coronavirus to be transmitted is in the workplace. Traditional human-to-human tracing techniques prescribe that when a person is known to be infected with the virus, health workers will interview them to chronicle whom the infected person may have come in contact with and then contact those individuals to advise and monitor them. 

Using an office card access system to identify what people were potentially infected by being in the same area around the same time as the infected person adds a new level of efficiency. Few of us, unless we work in a very small workplace, could remember whom we came in contact with several days or even a few weeks prior to being diagnosed with the disease. The card access system, however, will have that information and will not forget. 

In the case of the Hirsch Velocity Software with Contact Tracing system, if a person enters a building and is later found to be symptomatic of an illness, Velocity can pull a report of everyone who entered the same door within a given period. These people can then be notified to either get tested or self-quarantine. The feature is free, easy to download, and simple to implement into existing Velocity physical access control system (PACS) platforms.  

“While this is useful during the days of COVID-19, it can also be used for other applications, such as seasonal influenza,” said Mark Allen, Identiv GM, Premises. “This means your office can be proactive in responding to potential outbreaks, while simultaneously providing your employees with the peace of mind that there are measures in place to keep them safe.”

A good argument can be made that some privacy concerns are diminished with the use of a system that only traces activity and contact within a small defined workspace over the new smartphone-based digital tracing technology that tracks contact virtually everywhere. From an epidemiological perspective, the deployment of both localized workplace tracing as well as wider community level tracing is optimal. 

In their press release on the matter, Identiv stated, “contact tracing is available for free to all Hirsch customers. For more information on Hirsch Velocity Software, call +1 888.809.8880, contact sales@identiv.com, or visit identiv.com/products/physical-access/hirsch-velocity-software.

It should be noted that BSM did not survey other access control system providers to determine if they have or are planning to develop a similar feature for their products. In the new post-COVID world, this may become a regular and expected feature for these ubiquitous systems designed to know the whereabouts of users to provide their intended security function. 


Steven Bowcut, CPP, PSP is an award-winning journalist covering cyber and physical security. He is an editor and writer for Brilliance Security Magazine as well as other security and non-security online publications. Follow and connect with Steve on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.