Hawai‘i to Institute Facial Recognition at Airports

June 11, 2020, 7:30 AM HST (Updated June 11, 2020, 2:31 AM)
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Hilo Airport Terminal. PC Damon Tucker

Hawai‘i will lift the interisland travel quarantine on June 16, but the airport experience will be notably different for passengers.

In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) will install thermal screening at airports statewide, which will be complemented by facial recognition cameras to track those who register high temperatures.

Thermal screening equipment will be operated manually, which led to questions at a press conference Wednesday of why facial recognition is needed at all.

“The program … would be only internal to the airports, for that duration when travelers are in the airport, allowing us to identify those who have high temperatures and (provide an) opportunity for more comprehensive health screenings,” said Gov. David Ige. “The whole purpose of facial recognition within the scanning system is we’re trying to anticipate and get back to the new normal.”

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The governor added that he’s not concerned about privacy issues that have surfaced with the implementation of facial recognition technology in other states because the software will not be used to track people once they leave Hawai‘i airports or for any other purpose.

DOT’s plan to implement its new health screening strategy will begin with a pilot program at Daniel K. Inouye Airport on June 26, during which five different companies will offer their technologies for the trial run. The new equipment will be funded by the federal CARES Act.

After the pilot program is over and a final bid is accepted, the new screening strategy will be implemented in a three-stage process:

  • Phase 1: Thermal scanners will be installed at gates in use by mid-July.
  • Phase 2: Thermal scanners will be installed at all gates by July 31.
  • Phase 3: Facial recognition cameras will be installed by Dec. 31.

The new screening system will be tested on a smaller scale with interisland travelers to troubleshoot any problems before Hawai‘i lifts the out-of-state travel quarantine and starts receiving more trans-Pacific flights from the mainland and international markets.

PC: Pixabay

Gov. Ige on Wednesday announced that the out-of-state quarantine would be extended through at least July 31. The governor offered no timeline for when it might be lifted or how air travel might work once it is. However, he did mention safe travel corridors with areas that have similarly low rates of COVID-19 infection as Hawai‘i, which boasts some of the best coronavirus infection and mortality rates in the United States.

Hawai‘i Congressman Ed Case introduced federal legislation this week that, if passed, would allow states to impose regulations like mandatory pre-board COVID-19 testing for those who travel during a public health emergency, but the bill faces numerous obstacles on the path to becoming law.

Beginning June 16, interisland travelers will be subject to thermal screening before they board their planes. Those who register a temperature of over 100.4°F will not be allowed to board. The screenings will be conducted before passengers pass through TSA and enter their terminals.

Travelers will also be required to fill out a new, more comprehensive health screening document, which will be available online as early as next week and can be completed prior to arriving at the airport, said Hawai‘i Attorney General Clare Connors.

“This is an important moment,” Connors said Wednesday. “Based on what happens during that screening process, (passengers) may be offered a COVID-19 test.”

DOT spokesperson Tim Sakahara confirmed that even those flying privately will be screened, both during the interisland travel period and once the out-of-state travel quarantine is lifted. Everyone coming into the state before that time is required to sign a document stating they understand the restrictions of the quarantine, as well as the penalties for any violations.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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