Attorneys say plans to use facial recognition technology at airport do not violate privacy laws


HONOLULU(KHON2) — Facial recognition technology will be tested along with thermal temperature scanning at Honolulu’s international airport in the next couple of weeks. There are questions over how it will be used as concerns are raised over privacy issues.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Tim Sakahara said the technology they plan to use “isn’t really facial recognition technology like some people might think of it.”

When a person says, ‘facial recognition technology’ some imagine the government tracing and tracking people – -their photo or images linked to outside agencies, their information being shared. While it can be used in that way, Sakahara said DOT will only use it to identify someone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees.

“If anybody has a fever, that is when the facial recognition technology will just take a picture to be able to see that person. And as they walk through the area, the employee will be able to identify them, pull them aside and start that medical assessment,” Sakahara explained.

“That picture would not be shared with any outside agencies. That picture would only be used inside the airport, in that instance, and then it would be completely purged within 30 minutes of having taken it…Other information would not be known . We wouldn’t even know the person’s name.”

Attorney Loretta Sheehan said it is legal.

“With those limitations, it remains constitutional…We expose our face to the public every single day. So there’s no constitutional violation with cameras recording people in a public place.”

But Sheehan said that if the state makes any changes, then there could be a problem.

“Then it is a minefield,” Sheehan said. “Cause then you have to show that, under a strict scrutiny standard, you have to show that the governmental interest is compelling enough and narrowly tailored enough in preventing or reducing death and you have to weigh that against a person’s liberty interest in traveling the way they want to.”

KHON: “Could it change? Could (the state) decide down the road, yes, we’re putting this in and it evolve into something else?”

“Sure,” Sheehan said. “It could, if it evolved into a compulsory program where you have to test, then you have some huge problems. Then you’ve got some constitutional problems. Cause does your government get to tell you that you have to take a test that you don’t want to take cause they want to protect you and the people around you?”

Attorney Jeff Portnoy said using facial recognition technology in Hawaii should’t be taken lightly.

“Russia and China just invoked it. But this is a democracy and we have the Hawaii Constitution that guarantees an individual’s right to privacy…Until people can see exactly what the state intends to do, people should not blanketly just say, fine, facial recognition is fine, because as I say it has the potential for abuse.”

The state will begin its pilot program testing facial recognition and thermal scanning technology next week at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Sakahara said there are five different companies vying for the contract. The state will start implementing the thermal scanner program at the airport by mid-July.

“If the state decides that facial recognition is something that the state does want to go with, then that technology or equipment would be anticipated to be installed by end of this year,” Sakahara said.

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