Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Afraid of privacy breaches? What about monitoring your metabolism at work?

The USPTO has published a patent application filled on behalf of Microsoft for a “unique monitoring system and method […] that involves monitoring user activity in order to facilitate managing and optimizing the utilization of various system resources”. Translated into non-patent attorney language by The Times of London, it means a “computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism” to “allow managers to monitor employees’ performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure”. Wow, talking about the mother of all privacy breaches…According to the same newspaper, many groups are crying full, but first it needs to be assessed whether your bodily functions are personal data...since they refer to your health they seem to be sensitive personal data in this side of the Atlantic, as per Article 8.1 of the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC), but even then clarification would be needed to see whether that data can be requested “in the field of employment law” as in Art. 8.2. However, because the claims refer to offering and providing assistance to the worker when it detects stress and understanding stress as a medical condition, such “invention” could run afoul of the 1997 Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine of the Council of Europe, which in its article 10.1 and 10.2 establishes the right to privacy on health issues and the right to not be informed respectively…needles to say that all these refer to the use of the system without entering to ponder whether such a patent would be a valid one…

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