After County Judge Keough urges $411K expenditure on thermal cameras to detect fevers, turns out they just don’t work

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s Office just sponsored a measure to spend $411,000 on thermal cameras to measure the temperature of every person who enters the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Justice of the Peace Offices, and the Jail. Besides constituting a blatant violation of the constitutional rights of everyone whose temperature the County government measures involuntarily, it turns out the machines just don’t work.

Ashley Burke, Special Scientific Reporter to The Golden Hammer

Conroe, August 13 – Yesterday, The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, reported the Montgomery County Commissioners Court’s hasty decision, which wasn’t even on the meeting agenda, to spend $411,000 in tax dollars on thermal cameras which will involuntarily take the temperature of every person who enters the Montgomery County Courthouse, all of the local Justice of the Peace Offices, and the Montgomery County Jail. Please see “Big Brother Is Watching YOU: Montgomery County Commissioners Court, County Judge Keough Trample On Privacy Rights With Swift Vote To Take Citizens’ Temperatures,” The Golden Hammer, August 12, 2020.

Without question, the thermal cameras aimed at everyone who enters those facilities violate the right to privacy under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and under the Texas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

It turns out that the thermal cameras, which Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough’s Office sponsored, don’t even work.

Keough’s office proposed to spend $411,000 and up to $500,000 on “fixed thermal camera systems,” which will take the temperature of every individual who enters the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Justice of the Peace Offices, and the Montgomery County Jail. The vote was unanimous, as Keough and the four members of the Commissioners Court – Mike Meador, Charlie Riley, James Noack, and James Metts – seemed eager to spend the money received from federal CARES Act funds as quickly as possible.

Keough’s Chief of Staff, Jason Millsaps, explained to the Commissioners Court that the thermal camera systems, which they intended to aim at everyone, would measure a person’s temperature. If their temperature were above normal, security personnel would ask the person to leave the building and would assist them in rescheduling the meeting or reason for which they attended the County buildings.

The scanners don’t work

It sounds like a nice gimmick, but so do divining rods.

The Washington Post recently reported that the thermal scanners just don’t work, because they weren’t designed for detecting fevers:

“…industry veterans say the frenzy also is stirring up confusion and leading some small businesses and public officials to spend heavily on cameras without understanding their limitations — namely, that they’re not very good at actually detecting infections.

“While the systems can sense elevated skin temperatures, they aren’t precise enough to tell whether someone has a fever or something else: The warmth of a person’s skin is often quite different from their core body heat. People with heavier builds, health conditions or hot flashes can trigger the system’s alarms; so, too, can anyone just walking in from a hot car or parking lot.

“Many people with covid-19 infections haven’t actually had fevers: The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that as many as 25 percent of infected people don’t show any symptoms at all. The virus’s stealthy ability to not give itself away while it spreads led university researchers in February to estimate that fever scans and similar screening techniques would overlook more than half of the infected.




“Thermal scanners are the latest technology being deployed to detect the coronavirus. But they don’t really work,” Drew Harwell, The Washington Post, May 11, 2020.

Similarly, Convergint Technology Systems, a technology research firm, conducted a series of tests using peer-reviewed protocols and determined that thermal scanning technology simply doesn’t work to detect fevers in individuals or whether someone has COVID-19.

The World Health Organization conducted a study of thermal cameras and concluded “temperature screening alone may not be very effective as it may miss travellers incubating the disease or travellers concealing fever during travel, or it may yield false positive (fever of a different cause).” Similarly, the European Union’s health commission conducted a study of the thermal cameras in 2014 and concluded “thermal scanning isn’t very accurate because it only measures skin temperature and not people’s inner body temperature and is affected by changes in the environment.”

Additionally, the Electronic Imaging Foundation released a study in April, 2020, in which it concluded, “thermal imaging from a distance—including that in camera systems that claim to detect fevers—may not be effective. The cameras typically only have an accuracy of +/- 2 degrees Celsius (approximately +/- 4 degrees Fahrenheit) at best. This is cause for major concern. With such a wide range of variance, a camera might read a person’s temperature as a very high 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit when they are actually running an average 98.5 degrees Fahrenheit. What’s more, human temperatures tend to vary widely, as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only does this technology present privacy problems, but the problem of false positives can not be ignored. False positives carry the very real risk of involuntary quarantines and/or harassment.”

Unbelievably, this occasion is not the first time that the Montgomery County government fell for a scam to spend a fortune of tax dollars on a technology which doesn’t work. In the late 1990s, the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office actually spent several thousand dollars of public funds purchasing divining rods supposedly to aid in the search for drugs.

Bags of magic potion would have worked just as effectively.

 

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