Chinese officials in the city of Hangzhou are considering making permanent a smartphone-based health-rating system developed to trace COVID-19, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The tech hub located near Shanghai was among the first cities to roll out a health-rating app. The app traces a person’s travel history and health conditions to single out people who are at risk of contracting coronavirus, or COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, before spreading to the United States, where it has reportedly killed nearly 100,000 people.
Officials also used QR code-based health-rating apps to manage the movement of residents, TheWSJ reported. People who traveled to hot spots were designated with a red bar code and directed to quarantine themselves. Citizens without such a travel history were given a green bar code, allowing them to move freely.
The Chinese government reportedly announced an initiative in 2017 to rate citizens in a social credit system, penalizing people for criminal behavior as well as what they buy, do and say. The country began implementing President Xi Jinping’s policy of “once untrustworthy, always restricted” in May of that year.
Hangzhou’s health commission said Friday that it was considering a permanent version of the tool, TheWSJ noted, citing information on the commission’s website.
“At the same time, we can use big data to rate group health in apartment buildings, residential communities and businesses,” Hangzhou health commission chief Sun Yongrong said, according to TheWSJ.
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Reports of the plan generated criticism on China’s version of Twitter, Weibo.
“Once power is unleashed, it’s difficult to retract. Once we give up our rights under special circumstances, it’s hard to get them back,” one person wrote on the social media site Monday, according to TheWSJ. Twitter is banned in China.
Officials and big tech companies in the United States are copying many of the same tools to address COVID-19. Silicon Valley giants Apple and Google, for instance, are allowing their smartphone operating systems to use Bluetooth technology as a way of tracing people. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri expressed the belief that such techniques could be abused and ultimately violate citizens’ rights of privacy.
Apple and Google have been unresponsive to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment about the tools.
Governors and city officials are also deploying drones from a Chinese firm to police their citizens.
Elizabeth, New Jersey, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, for instance, is using drones from China-based company DJI to warn citizens who are walking outdoors not to get too close in physical proximity to other people. The drones blare sirens and issue this warning: “Stop gathering, disperse and go home.”
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are engaged in an inquiry to determine the breadth of a DJI drone program donating drones to city officials as they seek to protect people from the virus, the DCNF reported on May 13.