In an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19 and implement its zero-COVID policy, the Chinese government developed a color-coded smartphone app to track people’s movements in the early stages of the epidemic. However, media reports this week stated that officials in Henan province’s capital city of Zhengzhou were now enforcing the necessary rules to restrict the movement of citizens enraged that their accounts had been frozen by nearby banks.
Hundreds of depositors who had lost access to their funds planned to travel to Zhengzhou on Monday, but their health codes had unexpectedly changed to red. The protests were unsuccessful due to their inability to travel. The red code appeared to be aimed solely at depositors.
An editorial appeared in the official newspaper Global Times on Tuesday “The health code is a technical means of forcing the public to give up some personal information rights in order to meet the needs of society’s public health security. It can only be used to help prevent epidemics. It is the responsibility of the relevant authorities to protect citizens’ privacy as much as possible during the epidemic prevention process.”
According to Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, the red code issue is “extremely troubling,” and any use that isn’t related to COVID is a “obvious breach” of virus control procedures.
Since China began marketing portable and personalized health codes in response to the coronavirus outbreak, some have speculated that the technology could be used as a political tool to limit mobility. The program monitors a user’s travels, contact history, and physiological data such as temperature via a smartphone.
The software uses a QR code to track a user’s movements to track exposure to known cases of the virus, according to a blog post at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research group. Chinese authorities required citizens to register for facial recognition, provide their names and ID numbers, and obtain the QR code associated with their identity.