Daniel Lewkovitz on Sky News Channel discussing Fever Cams and CCTV Detection of COVID19 Symptoms

Transcript - Sky News - Saturday 15 August 1720hrs - Danica de Giorgio and Daniel Lewkovitz

Danica de Georgio: Well as companies return to work and public venues resume operations that many organizations are implementing temperature measurement as a condition of entry. A number of security companies have also started selling fever detecting systems, relying on infrared and thermal detection cameras to measure temperature. But do they work? Joining me now live is a security expert from Calamity, Daniel Lewkovitz. Daniel glad to see you again, thank you for joining me.

Daniel Lewkovitz: Hi Danica

Danica: Firstly, can you take us through how these infrared camera systems actually work?

Daniel: Well, in many cases they actually do not. But the theory is something like this, the camera uses infrared thermal detection to measure the temperature of everybody who is passing through the field of view of cameras. So, anybody who is traveled through an Asian airport in the last decade would have seen them set up at checkpoints there where they basically measure people. And anybody who has got an elevated temperature can be pulled aside and subject to further more invasive temperature checking and medical screening and so forth as a way of preventing infection.

Danica: And we have just got some vision of that on our screen right now, of it in action. There have been some previous warnings that perhaps these thermal cameras might not even be fit for the purpose in respect to COVID-19.

Daniel: So, the vision that you are looking at the moment is actually a promotional video from one of the vendors. And what you will notice is that many of the people in it are actually wearing glasses. Now the vendor’s own documentation will always say that you cannot be wearing glasses to get an accurate read. Which essentially means that anybody who is wearing a hat, who is wearing glasses, are all the cameras been improperly installed will result in negative detection, which essentially means that these things can provide a false sense of security and not detect people who may actually be infected. Now, that assuming that the camera systems actually work in the first place. But the bigger problem is that we know that sometimes as many as eighty percent of people infected with say COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That they show no visible symptoms. They do not feel unwell. They do not have an elevated temperature. So, in many cases you could be screening someone with a system like this and even if it works, which is questionable, it is going to say, “Yes, this person is absolutely fine.”. And that is going to create a false sense of security as opposed to an alternative situation where people in a workplace or a public venue can assume that they are infected and everyone else around them is infected and can take precautions accordingly.

Danica: Are there any security concerns over this?

Daniel: Well, there are significant ones. I mean a lot of companies are basically trying to do the right thing. They are trying to get back to work. They are trying to open their doors. And they are trying to keep their own staff and their customers safe. But the problem with all of these things is this technology has essentially come out of nowhere. And although thermal scanning has been around for a long time. This has become a multi-billion dollar industry overnight. There’s a fantastic American organisation called IPVM, who has done some really great work in actually assessing the vendor claims. What does work? What doesn’t and so one of the things they found, for example, is that something as simple as having a bit of hair crossing over someone’s forehead can make a big difference on whether or not this technology actually works. So, unless you also have a security person or someone at a reception or a concierge who is actually making sure people have their hair out of the way. It is not going to be good. The other thing that you will also see a lot of is well-intentioned but perhaps poorly considered temperature checking scenarios. For example, checking people’s temperature outside of a school or outside of a shop. So, right now in Australia it is winter and if someone’s checking your temperature on a street that is eight degrees in the morning. Your skin temperature is actually going to be lower. So, even a person with a scorching fever could present to one of those checking stations and come up clean. So, it really is creating a false sense of security. But the problem is that businesses say this technology and they go, “That is a really good idea. We should put that in in our place of business.”. And so, these things sort of, if you will pardon the pun, they spread virally a bit like those little sticky footprints that you are seeing in all sorts of shops at the moment as well. People think it is a good idea, but in many cases, it creates a false sense of security. That is worse than no security at all. At least when you know, you are going into an environment, be at a shopping centre or a retailer and you assume that there is infection risk everywhere, you can take appropriate precautions. Whether that is face covering, social distancing, hand sanitiser, or just simply not going. Once you put these systems in, it is very easy for people to assume, “Oh, I must be okay because they are checking everybody.”. And in many cases, these systems have the fundamental inability to detect COVID-19 because many of the carriers are going to be asymptomatic.

Danica: Yes, and I must say that I was at a government building recently after the pouring weather, bad rain and they ask me, “Why are you so cold? What is wrong with you?”. But I guess would you say that this is almost a mistake that many organisations are making in returning to work?

Daniel: Well, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the TGA, actually has a register of therapeutic goods. And they have made it unequivocally clear that this technology is in cameras to detect fever does classified as a medical device. And so, what that means is it needs to be approved. It needs to be able to register a therapeutic goods. And most of these cameras are not. There has been a huge influx of this technology coming in from China or from Chinese state-owned corporations, and it is not on the TGA’s list. And so, it is actually a criminal offence for them to be putting these in. And the problem is companies do not know this. They buy it from a security installer or they, “Oh, I see something online”, or perhaps they imported themselves. We are a security business. We install cameras and we have a lot of people in the last few weeks saying, “I bought something just off the internet and I would like you to install it.”. And I have to say to them, “This is actually a medical problem and it is a very significant issue. You know, you sure you have actually thought this out.”. Workplaces create other problems as well, which is all right. Let us say you had a system that worked 100% reliably and it could detect when a person was ill. What is your policy then? You are going to send them home and they are going to take the day off work. And so, then you get the alternative situation which is people who need to come to work because they need to work or they need to get paid or perhaps they want to go into a once-in-a-lifetime concert and not be prevented from that by thermal screening. They might actually try to trick the system, which is very easy to do by wearing a hat or glasses or perhaps splashing some ice water on your forehead before you go in. So, these are really sort of feel good measures, but they do not actually have any sort of underpinning risk assessment that goes against them. And that is something that concerns me as a security risk professional who knows what happens when things go wrong. I mean Danica, imagine a situation where there was a metal detector at an airport, but whoever supplied that metal detector knew that it had somewhere between a 20 and a 60 percent failure rate of detecting firearms going onto the plane. People would lose their mind. But that is exactly what is happening with this technology. And so, there is a sort of videos like the one you are seeing at the moment where it shows people merrily walk you through a corridor with hats and they are all bunched up and so forth. If you actually read the fine print, their own fine print specifically says, “Do not use them this way.”. But of course, it is not their problem once they sell this and once it goes in. And I suppose unlike letting a firearm through a metal detector when these things file, it is very quiet. You do not realise that you actually just let a super spreader through that is going to infect everybody. So, there is a lot of problems with this. And the interesting thing is one of those companies that works, it is the second largest surveillance CCTV manufacturer in the world. It is a Chinese state-owned corporation. They were specifically told by the TGA that their products are not approved here and they have been selling at anyone. To me, there is almost some irony of a Chinese state-owned company selling this technology as a supposed preventive measure against COVID-19. I guess it is analogous to if someone just ran over your family and then try to sell you the first aid kit afterward. I think people need to be a lot more careful about what they put in and not get attracted to shiny new things because we all want to get through this. We all want to get past this, but there is no easy answer. This is a very complicated problem, and just throwing something up on the wall is not a reliable way of preventing it.

Danica: Absolutely. It is certainly a very interesting space and I guess we will hear more about it as we all try to navigate this COVID world. Daniel Lewkovitz, great to chat to you. Thank you for joining me.

Daniel: Thanks, Danica.