Jason Oxman photo
Ensuring Technology Works During the Global Response to COVID-19

In a matter of weeks, our daily lives have been completely altered. More than 1.5 billion people across the globe are being mandated to stay home from work and school, cancel plans with loved ones, and refocus routines to prevent the spread of a malicious coronavirus.

Despite this abrupt shift, we are managing to move forward. Millions of people have seamlessly transitioned their corporate office to their kitchen table. Students and teachers have replaced whiteboards for desktops and online platforms. Families and friends have turned brunch and happy hour into virtual gatherings. Smartphones have turned into makeshift doctors’ offices, allowing to individuals identify possible symptoms of the virus remotely.

Even in the most challenging of times, society has demonstrated that no pandemic or crisis can match the power of the human spirit to persevere. Now is no different, and thanks to the men and women working in the technology industry, we are able to tackle this crisis while carrying on in ways that are more efficient and less disruptive than imagined. Governments at all levels and in all jurisdictions need to guarantee these individuals can continue their essential work.

The technology industry is enabling every aspect of this fight, from “flattening the curve” by facilitating workers and students to connect from home, to ensuring supply chains remain robust, to keeping government communications and operations intact. Workers across the information and communications technology sector are crucial to supporting health care providers, advancing critical infrastructure, protecting sensitive networks, manufacturing technology products and components, securing and servicing data centers and cloud services, keeping businesses online and students learning, and enabling medical experts to tackle the virus.

Governments around the world recognize the importance of this ongoing work. In the United States, scientists and researchers from cloud and supercomputing companies are working with their counterparts in academia and government to deploy artificial intelligence to aid in analysis of all available coronavirus data, speeding toward a vaccine while charting trends in virus spread and symptom mitigation. European Union officials have asked mobile operators to share movement data of their customers with governments to permit mapping of virus transmissions. And worldwide, e-commerce retailers are enabling shelter-in-place orders by delivering food, medicine, and essential supplies to our homes, while committing to hiring hundreds of thousands of new employees, giving hope to the newly displaced.

As government leaders issue orders restricting the movement of citizens to help control the spread of the coronavirus, it is essential that they ensure that these manufacturers, scientists, engineers, and innovators can continue to aid in the response. Crucially, these orders must ensure that IT workers are not blocked from playing their needed role.

Ongoing support of IT workers, including acknowledging their vital nature and authorizing them to perform critical tech-based operations during this time, is critical. That’s why more than 25 associations representing the tech, communications, and broader business communities from across the globe are calling on leaders at every level of government to adopt clear and comprehensive guidance to ensure information and communications technology workers are designated as “essential.” Importantly, government officials must also effectively promote and communicate these measures to state and local authorities responsible for implementing such orders to avoid inconsistent enforcement. Doing so will enable these workers to continue performing their critical jobs and functions, and keep local communities safe, secure, and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes the uninterrupted operation of critical information and communications technology networks, data centers, cloud computing and other technology services essential to public sector and law enforcement, critical infrastructure, and citizens everywhere. It also includes the continuous manufacturing, supply and delivery of the technology products and components underlying these essential services.

Many authorities are already taking action. Guidance recently published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides an exemplar of the type of clear definitions and comprehensive coverage needed to assure the continuation of information and communications technology manufacturing and uninterrupted delivery of essential services. U.S. state and local governments should use this exact guidance in issuing their own workplace restrictions to avoid hobbling the very industries that facilitate the United States’ response. Other countries should do the same.

With the world increasingly working, learning, and communicating online in the face of lockdown orders intended to control the spread of the coronavirus, it has never been more important that government leaders ensure the continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.

Public Policy Tags: Coronavirus Response