Want to report a lost or stolen item, or file an application for a city permit? Some governments say COVID-19 concessions to liberty mean you might have to get your temperature taken first. “The San Antonio Police Department is the first business in the city to install a new touchless temperature detection camera system which will be able to scan 2,000 people an hour quickly and accurately.” That’s from a FOX San Antonio report that reads like a press release for the camera company, or perhaps a dystopian harbinger of a future where electronic monitoring becomes increasingly present and invasive.
Welcome to a Safer World
Athena Security, the company that makes and sells the cameras, says, “We use our computer vision and enterprise alert system to focus on the inner eye, which is the closest point to your base body temperature and can detect within +- 0.3°C Accuracy.” If the camera detects a person’s temperature at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, an alarm goes off, and a picture of the allegedly fevered face is sent to a phone or computer. As LN‘s own Joe Schaeffer said, “the minimum threshold for a low-grade fever is said to be 99.8 degrees. San Antonians must love the idea that they can set off police alarms with their body temperature without even being sick.”
While the FOX report calls the police department a business, it is most certainly not. Companies can and should make their own decisions on the types of safety measures they wish to implement. Customers, employees, and contractors can then make their own choices about whether to submit to restrictions and conditions or move along. Not so with police or other government services. What will happen to you if, upon entering the premises, you are accused of being feverish?
Freedom From Surveillance
Is a person’s temperature private information? What right do the police have to monitor, detect, and publish that information? We can look to the past to see how courts might address these issues in the near future. Police have used thermal imaging cameras in the past to search for marijuana growers. That issue went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held temperature in the home was private and that police needed a warrant to obtain it.
Danny Lee Kyllo was busted for growing weed because police used a then state-of-the-art “Thermovision 210” device to detect and measure his home’s temperature. He challenged the evidence and made it to the Supreme Court and won. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the decision for the majority, which was joined by the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas. The Court ruled:
“Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment ‘search,’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.”
While that ruling doesn’t provide a clear path to how the Court would treat individual temperature scanning, one part does give some important clues. The justices added that when authorities obtain information by “sense-enhancing technology” that they otherwise could not, a warrant was required “at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use.” Would they apply the same reasoning to human temperatures captured outside the home?
If the Supreme Court were to present an analogous test, they would first have to decide if people had a reasonable expectation of privacy of their own temperature in public. If they came to a yes, then they would apply a test to rule if that expectation made a warrant for temperature reading mandatory. Judge John Noonan, who sat on the circuit court for the Kyllo case, wrote the following about the surveillance: “Our case involves amplification of the senses by technology. That kind of amplification is critical as it defeats the homeowner’s expectation. It is the effect on this expectation that makes the amplification impermissible.”
Unfortunately, courts will be dealing with issues of privacy invasion all the more as COVID-19 empowers authorities to be as invasive as they like. The San Antonio police did not respond to Liberty Nation when asked what happens to those who set off alarms from the temperature detection camera.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.
For home study students and young people, Liberty Nation recommends…
Your Rights With the Police
High School: Miranda Warning: The Right to Be Informed
Middle School: Miranda Warning: What Is It?
Elementary School: Why Do Police Give the Miranda Warning?
High School: The Constitution: The Foundation of a Nation
Middle School: The Constitution: The Foundation of a Nation
Elementary School: The Constitution: The Foundation of a Nation