Coronavirus pandemic

Repurpose anti-terror tech tools to fight the virus: Security experts

Technologies for facial recognition, mobile phone tracking, self-screening and automated gantry clearance are not new in countering terrorism. But they can be effective in countering a new enemy that is equally unseen, clandestine and dangerous - Covid-19.

Security experts have proposed that these tools be repurposed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and reduce the manpower burden on contact tracing to find people who had been in close proximity with confirmed patients.

Mr Nelson Tee, president of Security Systems Association of Singapore, said: "The first thing we have to look at is building access control using thermal imaging and facial recognition. Most people will not be going back to their offices, but hospitals and police stations are essential services that still need to run."

Smart glasses that display information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format are reportedly being used by police in a busy train station in the central city of Zhengzhou in China to identify criminals. These glasses scan faces and match the images against a database of suspects.

"These glasses could be used to police entry into buildings," he said.

New tools such as safe distancing software and systems are also being developed to warn people to stay away.

Mr Tee cited the example of United States-based Axxonsoft, a developer of video management systems and physical security information management systems, which is beta-testing a distancing violation detector.

Cameras and video analytics record each close contact in a building and register them as "events", making contact tracing easier, said Mr Tee.

Mr Yaniv Peretz, director of the Counter Terrorism Certification Board, a professional development programme, said it is time to "roll out the big guns" as more people are getting infected, placing a heavy burden on health systems and contact tracing.

He was referring to high-tech gantry systems that not only scan body temperature but also use artificial intelligence to read vital signs and assign risk scores to people visiting a facility.

Entry will be denied to high-risk visitors, while a message will be sent to building management, security or medical personnel.

My Peretz said such advanced systems have been installed in Israel, China and Russia as part of counter-terrorism measures and could be used to detect those infected with Covid-19.

Said Mr Tee: "The life-threatening coronavirus has become an issue that people recognise, and they will accept the increased scrutiny."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2020, with the headline Repurpose anti-terror tech tools to fight the virus: Security experts. Subscribe