Editor’s Note – As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Society has descended into a fear of illness and death as if it were facing a virus akin to Smallpox rather than one easily defeated by a healthy immune system. Not only has the Coronavirus outbreak presented a chance for some to exert control over the population’s movement and speech, but it has also created the ideal ecosystem for the acceleration of biometrics. That is the field of measuring and recording the body, often for identification purposes. Once just a matter of inking up a person’s fingerprints, biometrics has increasingly been brought into the public consciousness by technology – in the form of retina scans, facial recognition, and programs to measure our voices, facial expressions, and even heartbeat.
Fever Pitch for Health Scans
Governments and biometrics companies are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to scanning human bodies. Liberty Nation‘s Joe Schaeffer recently reported on the San Antonio Police Department’s deployment of body temperature scanners in public buildings, with a capacity of 2,000 tests per hour. The system will set off an alarm if a person’s body temperature is higher than 99.5° Fahrenheit – though what then happens to someone who sets off that alarm was not divulged. While temperature scanners are not a new invention, this is the first time they have been paired with a live alert system, according to Athena Security, the start-up providing the tech. Moreover, this is one of the first times the service has been marketed for use in general society, rather than targeted, high-security sites such as a national border.
Liberty Nation‘s legal mind, Scott D. Cosenza, revealed that the Supreme Court has ruled a person’s body temperature in the home to be private information, and that police must obtain a warrant to measure it. What about government officials scanning thousands of people per hour in a public place? Cosenza posed the question:
“Is a person’s temperature private information? What right do the police have to monitor, detect, and publish that information? … 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.”
Athena Security is an Austin-based company that also sells “AI driven surveillance technology” to detect guns “before an active shooter situation is initiated.” Yet the company says its fever detection system is appropriate for any “private, commercial, and government settings.” Indeed, anyone can purchase the equipment by merely using a shopping cart on the website. While a Fox report on the San Antonio department’s use of the scanners carelessly labeled the police force a “business,” Cosenza clarifies that the implications in terms of Americans’ rights are very different in a private versus public milieu:
“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.”
Government departments, including the U.S. Air Force, and businesses alike are beginning to utilize the technology, including some “large Fortune 500 companies” unspecified by Athena. Demand for the system has skyrocketed thanks to the pandemic. “We have a pipeline and orders of tens of thousands of cameras,” placed within a few days, CEO Lisa Falzone told Forbes. FLIR Systems, a thermal imaging company, usually catering to the military and border security, has also seen an exponential increase in sales from private industry.
Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston is reportedly the first hospital to have purchased the Athena equipment, as have the Wynn Resorts casino chain and Propeller Airports, a private airport company. These cameras may not simply be imposed upon the population from on high, though; temperature scanners could be the next trend in smartphone features. Chinese company Blackview recently released a phone with an inbuilt FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera, giving anybody with a spare few hundred dollars the ability to start scanning just about anybody or anything they encounter.
The mainstream media has been in advertising mode when it comes to Athena in particular, but it should be noted that IPVM, a website specializing in video surveillance news, published a damning report claiming that Athena had falsified some of its marketing content and had hiked its prices amid the outbreak. According to IPVM, such actions highlight “a very troubling pattern of companies taking advantage of the fear and desperation of users looking for any solution” to the crisis.
As to whether fever-detection cameras are reliable, who knows? While the FDA usually regulates them as medical devices, it indicated in April that it would be waiving its usual standards for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
No Test, No Work
Private companies may have the right to ask customers and employees to submit to biometrics surveillance voluntarily, but how much choice will people have if such scans become widely accepted as a part of society? Not much – particularly if livelihoods are dependent on passing such a test. Axios recently reported on biometrics company CLEAR, which, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, is planning to help businesses screen their employees’ health status. Typically a company that deals in airport and border security, CLEAR is looking to expand into American workplaces.
The Health Pass screening “will link personal health data to verified IDs to help businesses screen employees for COVID-19 as they return to work,” according to Axios. Users will download an app, verify their identity with facial recognition, fill in a health questionnaire, and even upload test results. When arriving at the workplace, employees’ entries will be accepted or rejected based on their health results and digital ID.
“CLEAR’s trusted biometric identity platform was born out of 9/11 to help millions of travelers feel safe when flying,” said Maria Comella, the company’s head of public affairs. “Now, CLEAR’s touchless technology is able to connect identity to health insights to help people feel confident walking back into the office.”
Sold as a means of getting people out of lockdown and back to work, how could such a product impact employees when applied outside the scope of this particular pandemic? Are we facing a future when people will be screened for any manner of health conditions before being allowed to work?
“They Was Leavin’ No part Untouched!”
Biometrics previously reserved for high-security applications in the airport and military are on the verge of becoming a way of life for everyday Americans. Thanks to the Coronavirus, prepare to get scanned, tested, checked – or, as Arlo Guthrie described in the 60s, upon being drafted: “injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected!”
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.