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Govt to protect businesses employing temperature screening after GRA raises privacy concerns

The Gibraltar Government moved swiftly yesterday to defuse a potential problem for businesses that use temperature tests in the Covid-19 pandemic, after the Gibraltar Regulatory Authority raised concerns about privacy and said such screening could be “excessive” and a breach of data protection law.

The Government said it would swiftly issue regulations making clear that such firms were acting in accordance with public health advice and thus were protected in law.

The GRA acknowledged that both employers and the authorities may have legal grounds for temperature checks on employees and at entry and exit points to the Rock.

But it said such monitoring was “a privacy intrusion” that could only be justified under very limited circumstances.

"It is important to note that in the case of the Covid-19 pandemic temperature checks could significantly impact the freedom of individuals, and that temperature checks may not necessarily be reliable as there are a variety of reasons that may cause fever and Covid-19 infected individuals do not always have fever,” the GRA said in a statement.

“The Commissioner empathises with businesses - for example shops - that would like to check the temperature of visitors to their premises, but considers temperature checking [customers] could be excessive and possibly in breach of data protection law.”

“The Commissioner has concerns about the proportionality of temperature checking visitors, particularly if their use is widespread as this may lead to unfair restrictions, taking into account the limited reliability of temperature checks.”

“When used, organisations should give careful consideration prior to the deployment of equipment which checks the temperature of individuals and should be able to demonstrate why temperature checking visitors is absolutely necessary.”

The GRA said it would monitor developments and review guidance where necessary, and would take into account any guidance issued by bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

But speaking at the daily press briefing yesterday, the Minister for Public Health, Dr John Cortes, said the Government did not agree with the GRA’s analysis and the concerns it had raised.

He insisted public health advice must take precedence amid the current coronavirus pandemic, adding that the Government would issue regulations to ensure anyone employing temperature testing enjoyed the full protection of the law.

“As a result and in order to give private businesses legal certainty in this area, the Government is making the appropriate regulations to put the matter beyond any doubt,” he said.

“This will enable firms to follow the advice and guidelines of public health officials without any fear of breaching any legislation.”

“At this time, it is essential for the benefit of the entire community that technology is used wherever possible in our fight against this virus.”

The Gibraltar Government was itself the first to implement temperature screening as one of multiple layers of protection to detect new cases of Covid-19 in the community.

It installed temperature screening cameras at the border to identify anyone crossing in from Spain who may be unaware they are running a fever, one of the most important symptoms of a potential Covid-19 infection.

The aim is to alert such persons of the need to self-isolate and be tested for the virus.

The Minister for Financial and Digital Services, Albert Isola, said the GRA was an independent body that was in its right to raise legitimate concerns.

But he added that the Government was also entitled to disagree.

But, he said: “If the choice is, at worst, to put people’s lives at risk or comply with a piece of legislation which we don’t agree with, then the choice is obvious.”

“Our position will always be every day of the week to protect the lives of our people.”

“But it’s not even that, because in our view the Data Protection Act provides for a legitimate interest and I actually believe that the legislation already provides the ability of firms relying on the public health advice that’s been issued, and therefore for them to put thermal-imaging cameras at their stores,” he said, adding that they have to protect their own employees and businesses.