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Drone hovering. Photo credit: Harrison Kugler

Covid-19: Drones deployed in Malaysia to check temperatures of its population

Malaysian police are using drones to check temperatures of its population from as high as 20 meters above ground in the latest example of Coronavirus control measures.

Published: June 9, 2021, 12:31 pm

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    Kuala Lumpur

    The drones alert authorities if someone has a high temperature reading by emitting a red light if temperature in a person exceeds 37,5 degrees Celsius, according to Bernama, Malaysia’s state news agency.

    Malaysian police have previously warned that they would use drones to enforce earlier travel restrictions, with officers in some areas also stating they would carry out surprise home visits to ensure people were following rules, reported The Guardian.

    There have been other examples of authorities deploying surveillance drone technology to enforce Covid-19 rules, including India, Italy, Oman, the US, and China. Drones were already used to monitor temperatures, Slate reported in May 2020. Thermal cameras can identify symptoms that are associated with a Covid-19 infection. They include increased heart and respiratory rates, a raised body temperature, coughing and sneezing.

    But the surveillance capabilities of this technology raise the spectre of a digital form of authoritarianism and a corresponding erosion of privacy. A Paris court suspended the use of Covid-19 drone surveillance in the French capital until privacy concerns are addressed.

    In the US, in Connecticut police scrapped their plans to use drones to monitor heat signatures and track individuals over privacy concerns from local residents however because this involves gathering data about people and the locations they visit.

    In the UK, police used drone footage to spot people who visited a national park during the lockdown. Even if the police using the technology do not recognise the individuals in such footage, in theory it could be linked to CCTV networks that are equipped with facial recognition technology and used to identify people. This is a particular worry, because facial images that are recorded for health reasons could easily be re-purposed.

    Last year, authorities in Spain used surveillance drones to make sure people who visit beaches are complying with social distancing regulations as well as in Greece where local authorities on a beach near Athens used a drone to broadcast public distancing guidance. In Belgium, police used drones fitted with loudspeakers to encourage citizens to stay home. The drones were said to facilitate enforcement of the Coronavirus ban on setting off fireworks while megaphone-equipped drones were deployed by police to transmit warnings to those found or suspected to be breaking the rules.

    In Australia, drones were used to pinpoint those not wearing masks while also scanning for vehicles that were parked more than 5km from their owner’s home.

    Many are worried that using a health crisis to justify the introduction of public surveillance will enable it to continue after the emergency has passed.

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