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Governments looking into advanced surveillance, biometric tech to contain coronavirus



Governments are looking into surveillance, geolocation and biometric facial recognition technology that might violate user data privacy, out of desperation to contain coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The publication reports speaking to people close to the matter who claim all measures will be taken to identify people in contact with anyone who tested positive, including tracking phone location and using facial recognition to analyze photos.

Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI is allegedly negotiating a partnership with state agencies to monitor infected people and individuals they interacted with.

Palantir Inc., a data-mining company, is already collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the agency and the National Institutes of Health have already established a partnership with other companies that mine public social media data.

The White House is also working with a task force consisting in a number of both startups and large tech companies, including Alphabet’s Google unit, Facebook and Amazon. Facebook is developing disease-migration maps to help contain the virus.

Privacy advocates are concerned user data, especially medical information, could be jeopardized. Senator Run Wyden has said he is investigating the situation.

“We understand that given we are in this crisis, that some temporary adjustment of our digital liberties may be necessary, however it’s really important that those adjustments be temporary,” Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Journal.

Under the circumstances, the U.S. government has the authority to demand location data from telecom companies or Google without user consent or a court order, Al Gidari, director of privacy at Stanford Law School, told the Wall Street Journal.

China has already collaborated with local telecom companies to find all people that travelled through Hubei province, and the data was sent to China’s National Health Commission to map virus carriers.

American companies continue to roll out technology that could contribute to outbreak-related surveillance systems, meanwhile.

After claiming that it could detect weapons in video feeds, U.S.-based company Athena Security now plans to roll out “artificially intelligent thermal cameras” that detect fever, writes Vice.

“Our Fever Detection COVID19 Screening System is now a part of our platform along with our gun detection system which connects directly to your current security camera system to deliver fast, accurate threat detection,” the company says on its website.

Athena Security is trying to promote the solution to be installed in grocery stores, hospitals, voting locations, and claims it already has plans to deploy it in government agencies and airports.

The solution does not use facial biometrics or personal tracking technology.

According to co-founder Christopher Ciabarra, who spoke with Motherboard, “We actually detect the person on the AI side, then we detect the face, and we look for the eyes. We take the temperature of the eyes because that’s the closest point to the core of the person’s body temperature.”

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