Government watchdog: Airport fever screenings for coronavirus raise racial profiling, privacy concerns

Government watchdog: Airport fever screenings for coronavirus raise racial profiling, privacy concerns

A federal plan to screen air travelers for fever to detect the coronavirus is drawing scrutiny from a government watchdog officer worried about risking privacy intrusions and racial discrimination without evidence that such checks will keep Americans safer.

Travis LeBlanc, a board member for an independent federal agency charged with protecting Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to detail how it intends to collect, use and safeguard the sensitive health information.

LeBlanc sought answers to a dozen questions about the government’s yet-unpublished airport screening plan in a letter released to USA TODAY.

“The ongoing pandemic is not a hall pass to disregard the privacy and civil liberties of the traveling public,” wrote LeBlanc, a Democrat on the five-member bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

The agency, created in the aftermath of the 9-11 attack to counter government overstepping in the fight against terrorism, has been investigating the use of body measurement calculations, such as facial recognition and fingerprinting technology, in airport security.

USA TODAY reported last month that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention objected to a White House plan to check travelers’ temperatures in 20 U.S. airports, noting that earlier CDC-led efforts to screen travelers returning from China had failed to stop the virus from reaching the United States.

In internal emails obtained by USA TODAY, CDC officers highlighted the high percentage of COVID-19 infections in people who never spiked a fever as one reason restarting the screenings would not work.

LeBlanc cited the article in his letter and asked how the Department of Homeland Security has determined that temperature screenings would improve the safety of air travel.

Read:Travis LeBlanc's letter to the Department of Homeland Security

The federal government has not yet released a plan to screen for fevers for domestic travel and its status is unclear. Neither DHS, nor the CDC, responded to requests for additional information.

LeBlanc said he understands the concept has been piloted at Dulles International Airport. He is concerned, however, that he has not seen a required privacy impact assessment.

He also questioned the legal authority of the Transportation Security Administration to execute health screenings without trained medical workers, especially since those workers may face safety risks in performing the checks.

“The program seems designed at TSA to increase the perception that traveling is safe,” LeBlanc said in an interview, “and the risk of that sort of security theater is it creates a false sense of security in people believing that there aren’t COVID-19 infected passengers that are on their flights.”

He called “deeply troubling” the potential for disproportionately barring racial minorities from traveling. African Americans, for example, have been sickened and killed by the new coronavirus at especially high rates.

President Donald Trump has signaled support for some form of health screenings, which airlines hope will convince people it is safe to travel again. Discount carrier Frontier already has started using a touchless thermometer to screen all passengers and crew before they board flights. Anyone with a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is not allowed to fly.

Wide-ranging privacy concerns are emerging from the coronavirus epidemic. A bipartisan bill introduced this week in the U.S. Senate by Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington state and Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana seeks to protect consumers who are using newly developed apps designed to track their exposure to people with COVID-19.

It also would mandate a review of government practices during the pandemic by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Cantwell previously has called for national guidelines on safety protections for airport travelers and workers.

The American Civil Liberties Union also has expressed concern about using temperature screenings to detect and protect against the COVID-19 virus in a wide range of settings, from workplaces to hospitals, particularly when there is no vaccine.

For starters, people can spike fevers for many reasons unrelated to the new virus, including other illnesses, stress and hormonal changes.

Jay Stanley, an ACLU senior policy analyst, noted that the technology under consideration to conduct mass temperature screenings is not always accurate.

Airplanes present unique challenges, with travelers crammed close together for long periods of time. “Nobody wants to be on an airplane next to somebody who is infectious with COVID,” he said.

But kicking anyone off may be equally fraught, Stanley added, saying, “It is a serious business to deny people their right to travel.”

Letitia Stein and Brett Murphy are reporters on the USA TODAY investigation desk. Contact Letitia at lstein@usatoday.com, @LetitiaStein, by phone or Signal at 813-524-0673 and Brett at brett.murphy@usatoday.com or @brettMmurphy.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2020/06/02/coronavirus-fever-screenings-fly-raise-discrimination-worries/5316821002/

News Related

ORTHER NEWS

Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »