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Your Privacy and Data in Access Control

Steve Dunn

In many countries, QR code check-in has quickly become the norm if you want to grab a beer at a pub, or a meal at a restaurant as a way of reinforcing and empowering COVID-19 contract tracing. Tracing people’s movements has been a part of lives for a long time as a feature of electronic access control systems available since the mid-seventies.


Many people who work in large offices use access control systems daily. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel with keycards then you’ve probably been anonymously traced. Access control and tracing people’s movements are important for such things as; meeting government compliances; for insurance reasons; improving management efficiencies; and for making workplaces safer and more secure.


But when we scan that little chequered QR box and enter our personal details, we can’t help but worry, “what about my privacy?” Which companies or governments are going to vacuum up my personal data and sell it to large corporations? Will I be bombarded again with spam, targeted advertising, exposed to scams or god knows what other privacy invasions?


Concerns about our privacy, data, and tracing our movements might be a burden of modern pandemic life, but they are not new – they did not start with the virus, and they won’t end with it. The origin of tracing people’s movements goes back around 150 years to devices called ‘punch time clocks’. In 1890, the Bundy brothers from New York were granted a patent for mechanical time recorders, suggesting earlier products already existed, but their invention had improvements such as each worker using their own metal key. 


Interestingly the Bundy Manufacturing Co., which the brothers formed to commercialise their invention, later merged in 1911 with four other companies to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Company, subsequently changing its name in 1924 to IBM.


The punch time clocks worked when employees shifted a revolving arm on a machine downwards to print and record their check-in time on their ID card. They did this whenever they entered or left the office so they could be paid accordingly.  


When they were first invented, these punch time clocks were described as of “immense value in the office and particularly in the shop for keeping track of time used in any job completed by workmen”. 


Fast forward about 150 years to our modern access control systems which track employee works hours too, but they also do so much more. Instead of simply punching records onto employee ID cards, wireless access control systems send tracking data up to cloud servers for data analytics.


Data analytics and AI can then address employee demands for workplaces to deliver premium, more individualized services and reduce downtime, whilst also optimizing workflows for more seamless access for mobile workers. 


For example, workers such as delivery drivers, broadband technicians, and nurses visiting different homes on a regular basis can get the most efficient schedules mapped out in advance and emailed to them automatically at the start of each day along with their unique access credentials in the form of digital keys. Their schedules can also update at any moment in real-time. Wasting time planning routes and chasing down and returning metal keys can become a thing of the past. Increased information flow, where AI or managers can make quicker more informed decisions about the system’s use and how to optimize it, benefits everyone.


The increased use of live audits with electronic locks, and their online communications in real-time to third party devices such as CCTV, alarms and motion sensors, gather more useful data for advanced analytics and even better workplace management.


Today’s wireless access control systems also help businesses meet government regulations for “Employer Duty of care” sending live notifications to managers phones instantly of all your worksite movements. New laws in several countries including the UK, are holding corporations criminally responsible for the safety and security of employees.  It is an employer’s duty to allow you to safely move around your worksite, and know where you are at all times, especially for emergencies and insurance reasons.


To meet government compliances, many companies have attempted to track employee movements on and off worksites with GPS and smartphone apps, but they’ve faced employee backlash due to privacy concerns. Tracking apps have also exposed companies to legal actions due to grey areas in local laws. This type of tracking is particularly worrying as the employee apps often keep on tracking after hours. 


So the next time you QR code check-in to a restaurant, rather than thinking ‘it’s the end of the world as we’ve lost our privacy and data’, remember this type of thing has been a part of lives for a long time and you’re helping business’s meet regulatory requirements, make their workplaces more secure, safer, and more efficient. 

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