Officials say facemask could pose security risk

Claim facing difficulty in surveillance of public spots


Imran Asghar May 02, 2020
A street vendor wearing a facemask as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 interacts with customers alongside a street in Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

RAWALPINDI: Although the use of facemasks has become mandatory after the coronavirus outbreak, it has also increased the possibility of a security breach at sensitive public spots.

Security agencies are in a dilemma in ensuring the safety and protection of such places including airports, railway stations as well as entry and exit points of the city, said a security officer posted at Islamabad International Airport (IIA). It has become almost impossible for detecting a suspected person by reading his facial expressions, the official said requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

“The first step in identifying a suspect is face recognition,” he said adding, “security officials look for nervousness or anxiety in facial expression.” However, facemask could mask these giveaways, he said.

The security officials use to have difficulty with women in hijab to show their face, now everyone is wearing a mask and has to checked when entering protected area, the official said.

The law enforcement agencies (LEAs), as well as sensitive agencies, have decided to highlight the drawbacks of facemasks, being widely used by the people after the pandemic outbreak, to the government, he said.

Security officials claim that facemasks have affected their reconnaissance practice of suspected individuals at high-risk public spots like IIA. Therefore, they have decided to inform the government about the chances of a security breach at sensitive places.

Sources in a security agency told The Express Tribune that around 90 per cent of people in the twin cities wear facemask when they step out of their homes amid the coronavirus situation. However, besides their usefulness, the veiled faces have put the security agencies in a dilemma.

Officials said that even the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at high-risk public places have become ineffective under the current circumstances. Contending it, they added that most of the agencies keep an eye on suspected individuals by reading their facial expressions.

These people remain under the strict surveillance of security agencies to reduce the possibility of a criminal or terror activity However, since the faces are masked; the agencies have become incapable to do so. Further, face identification is the initial step while investigating any crime.

The use of facemasks has impacted this method of monitoring exercised by the peace maintainers. The security agencies have also prepared a report citing the problems faced by them in maintaining the security of public places amid coronavirus situation.

A report would soon be conveyed to the government to bring the situation to their knowledge, sources added.

Hence, the security agencies have suggested enforcing a manual method for face identification at sensitive public spots to avert security breach.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2020.

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