U.S. Oversight Board Member and Australian academics question airport temperature screening plans

U.S. Oversight Board Member and Australian academics question airport temperature screening plans

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Member Travis LeBlanc has written to Chad F. Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, questioning whether the Transportation Security Administration has a mandate to collect temperature readings from all travelers, and what the agency will do to protect the information it collects.

LeBlanc notes in the letter that TSA officers are typically not medically trained, and that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have questioned the value of airport thermal checks, as 40 percent of transmissions occur before individuals feel sick, and body temperature can increase due to many different factors.

“It is my hope that your responses will demonstrate that any such endeavour will be taken with the well-being and safety of the traveling public in mind, and that the Department will immediately put in place policies to limit the collection, sharing, and retention of sensitive biometric health information,” LeBlanc writes.

The Board is also in the midst of an investigation into the use of facial recognition for Biometric Entry/Exit by DHS.

LeBlanc requests answers to 12 different questions from DHS by June 15, 2020, including what specific thermometers or systems have been approved for use, what standard will be used to determine an individual has a fever, and whether DHS performed a privacy impact assessment (PIA) for its trial of thermal screening at Dulles International Airport.

Academics say contactless screening may not be effective, biometrics could raise data risks

A trio of academics from Deakin University in Australia are asking some tough questions about the effectiveness of the thermal cameras that have been launched by so many companies, often in combination with facial biometrics, for containing the spread of COVID-19.

Writing in the The Conversation, they raise questions about the accuracy of such systems in the field, and related data privacy concerns.

If temperature screening systems deliver many false positive fever assessments, healthcare systems will be burdened with needless secondary assessments, the authors write. If they deliver too many false negatives, then combined with a false sense of security, they may result in outbreaks. The most accurate devices for temperature measurement are contact devices requiring training to use, they contend, which is why they are not widely used for mass fever testing.

Clinical evidence in support of thermal camera-based solutions is lacking, according to the article, and they have not been approved by Australia’s authority for healthcare tools.

The scientists note that skin temperature is not uniform, nor does it uniformly reflect internal temperature, and conditions such as cold weather could affect readings minutes later. While the corner of the eye best reflect core temperature, it is a very small target, and a minor change in angle can produce significant changes in results.

Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban also recently pointed out to The Dallas Morning News that “anyone can crush and eat a few Tylenol to beat any system” when asked about using temperature screening to ensure a safe return to live-spectator sports.

The addition of facial recognition to these systems is also seen as complicating data security and privacy issues related to temperature screening systems.

ISO released guidelines for the deployment of thermal cameras in 2017, including the measurement of one person at a time, close proximity between the person and camera, and that the subject pause and directly face the system.

The authors urge those putting thermal monitoring systems in place to follow ISO recommendations and avoid vendors who do not, as a minimum measure.

“More research is needed to investigate this technology and begin developing a library of reliable independent research. This is necessary to make sure decisions about this technology can be made on the basis of firm evidence during COVID-19 and future pandemics.”

Canadian lawyers, meanwhile, have written in guidance reported by Canadian Underwriter that because temperature screening is only partially effective, it should not be heavily relied on, and should be used with other, unspecified screening methods.

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