China using coronavirus tracking app to suppress dissent, control the populace
To combat the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), China’s government has been using a health code system that assigns people colored QR codes via their smartphones. A new report, however, claims that this system goes beyond fighting the pandemic and is being used to maintain “social stability.”
According to the Epoch Times, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using the health code system to monitor individuals and control their movement, even if they aren’t infected by the virus.
Health code system went from monitoring coronavirus to enforcing security
First deployed by e-commerce giant Alibaba to monitor its own employees’ health, the health code system soon found use outside the company, with cities in China quickly adopting it.
With its nationwide rollout, the system has become a significant risk assessment tool for the virus. At the same time, people’s lives have been quickly and drastically affected as authorities implement containment measures.
The system uses color-coded QR codes to control people’s movement – green means they can pass through checkpoints, but yellow or red require them to quarantine for a set number of days. These codes are assigned based on a person’s frequency and time spent near an area with a known virus outbreak, and even covers details such as local streets and towns.
An internal document procured by the Epoch Times, however, seems to indicate that the authorities controlling the system may also be using the system to control the population and suppress dissidents such as petitioners and rights defenders, giving them red codes. (Related: China now assigning ‘citizen scores’ to target dissenters and maintain sheep-like obedience among populace.)
Titled, “Urgent Notice on Strengthening the Application of Hebei Health Code,” the document was supposedly released to “ensure the success of Two Sessions.” The latter is the annual meeting of the CCP’s rubber-stamp legislature and advisory body that was held in Beijing last May.
The document called for the use of the health code app as a security check system to serve Two Sessions. Specifically, the document instructed authorities to strengthen the application of the system in parks, malls, supermarkets, hospitals, public transportation and other public spaces to “ensure the safety and stability” of the event.
China has a history of using systems beyond their intended purpose
While the use of the health code system for purposes beyond stemming the spread of the coronavirus is alarming, it isn’t surprising. The Chinese government has a known history of using tools beyond their original purpose.
According to Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, China previously did the same with the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Here, officials introduced monitoring tools that soon outlasted the events they were supposedly designed for, Wang said.
“The coronavirus outbreak is proving to be one of those landmarks in the history of the spread of mass surveillance in China,” she added.
The city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba and other tech giants reside, has announced plans to continue to use the health code app even after the pandemic recedes. In May, officials in the southern Chinese city announced plans to “normalize” its use and turn it into a “‘firewall’ to enhance people’s health and immunity.”
Hangzhou’s health commission has said that it is looking to use the health codes to assign a health status based on people’s digital medical records, including the results of check-ups as well as lifestyle habits. However, the precedent set by the system’s use as a security check system during the Two Sessions summit in Beijing could hint at the same being done in Hangzhou.
More importantly, given the city’s relation to China’s tech companies where it often serves as a testing ground for them – the city was the first to implement the health code app – it could be that the apps extended use in Hangzhou could be a precursor for what will happen in the rest of the country in the future.
Learn more about how big tech companies are tracking your data at Surveillance.news.