Facial scanners at Hawaii airports are ‘terrifying’, says ACLU


As Hawaii continues to test facial recognition and thermal scanning technology this week for a pilot program to prevent the spread of COVID-19, civil rights group worries about invasion of privacy .

The Hawaii Department of Transportation announced the launch of the program on June 10, saying five companies – NEC and Infrared Cameras, now teaming up, FLIR, iOmniscient and Omnisense – will demonstrate their technologies in Honolulu, Kailua- Kona, Hilo, Kahului and Lihue airports.

The state will choose a bidder after June 26 to install cameras at the doors to screen travelers with temperatures above 100.4 degrees.

The state is considering four different proposals involving five different companies to install facial recognition and thermal scanning technology to research high temperatures in its efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

However, the announcement provided few details on important factors, including how the technology actually works, its cost, rules and guidelines, and who will have access to the data, said Mateo Caballero, legal director of American Civil. . Liberties Union of Hawaii, which submitted letter calling on the state to “curb” the pilot program

“This is one of the big problems – that we know so little about it,” he said.

“These are things we need to know before we make such a big leap into real-time biometric surveillance at airports,” he added.

The Hawaii ACLU is calling on the state to release all government documents related to the use of facial recognition technology in Hawaii and address concerns about the potential for abuse.

“While we understand the urgent need to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen Hawaii’s economy,” the ACLU letter says, “the indiscriminate and hasty use of the FRT – in especially without proper regulation, transparency and public debate – is ineffective, unnecessary, riddled with abuse, costly, potentially unconstitutional and, in short, “terrifying”.

DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara said the scanning technology takes a photo of people passing through thermal scanners that exceed the temperature threshold.

“It’s just so that employees have the opportunity to put them aside,” he said. “If someone passes by and they don’t have a fever, their photo won’t be taken at all. “

When photos are taken, they will not be shared with other agencies and the photos will be deleted within about 30 minutes, he said.

“People have their picture taken a dozen times a day after they leave their homes and don’t know it,” he added.

Rules governing the use of facial recognition technology, including how long images are retained, are being developed by state officials, including the Department of Transportation and the Attorney General’s Office, a said Sakahara. Data security will be determined by the selected company.

The data would not include any sensitive information, he said.

“People shouldn’t be thinking about the functionality of a spy movie,” he said.

The problem with facial recognition technology is that unlike most other biometric systems, such as fingerprints, it can be used in a “passive” way that requires no participation, said Caballero of the ACLU.

ACLU Hawaii Chief Legal Officer Mateo Caballero is concerned about the potential for abuse of facial recognition technology. Anthony Quintano / Civil Beat

“You are being followed without your knowing it,” he said. “It’s a technology that could potentially be unconstitutional. “

Yet the technology also has the potential to miss people who actually have the virus but don’t have a fever, as research suggests temperature checks alone are not a reliable way to determine COVID infections. -19, he said.

“For me, it’s like adopting technology for technology,” Caballero said. “At the end of the day, what we’re asking for now is transparency and open discussions. It takes public buy-in.

His organization has previously heard from inter-island travelers who have privacy concerns due to surveillance at airports in Hawaii, he said. For example, the state attempted to subpoena Hawaiian Airlines files for people who donated their miles to people participating in protests on Mauna Kea.

The debate over the use of facial recognition technology is not unique to Hawaii. It has drawn widespread criticism over the lack of regulation, the possibility of flawed technology and prejudice, among other issues. The ACLU’s national organization has sued the US Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies for their use of the technology. This litigation is ongoing.

Nonetheless, the pandemic has created an opportunity for tech companies, some of them – including those bidding for the pilot with Hawaii – creating products specific to COVID-19.

“Governments and businesses around the world are working hard to develop new processes to ensure public health and safety against COVID-19, including the use of radiometric thermal imaging cameras as part of a comprehensive program of frontline screening, ”Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR, said on the company’s website.

FLIR Systems, one of the Hawaii pilot project bidders, has created a temperature control product specific to COVID-19. Screenshot-FLIR

FLIR’s Screen-EST is designed to “automatically take a measurement of the skin temperature near each person’s tear duct, the area most closely correlated with core body temperature,” according to the company’s website, and costs $ 595 per unit.

NEC, a Tokyo-based IT company, partnered with Texas-based infrared cameras for the Hawaii pilot project, said Sakahara of the Department of Transportation.

iOmniscient is an Australian artificial intelligence company, and Omnisense is a South Carolina wireless sensor network company.

The exact cost of the project has yet to be determined, Sakahara said. But ultimately, he says it will be a cost-effective way to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“This technology will effectively help identify people with fever at airports to help keep the community safe,” he said. “It would equate to hundreds of employees statewide and cost millions of dollars.”

Currently, the Hawaii National Guard is assisting passenger temperature checks using infrared thermometers at airports.

Sakahara said the state plans to retain facial recognition and thermal scanner equipment beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus is not just going to go away,” he said. “It would continue to be used at airports statewide to continue monitoring. You don’t want people with fever to travel anyway, whether it’s coronavirus or not. “


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