Coronavirus Spread Declines in China – Will Government Mass Surveillance Follow Suit?

The Chinese government has countered the coronavirus with increased surveillance. Will these measures continue as the threat lessens? Will the U.S. start implementing similar tactics?
Posted in: Op-edPolitics
Published:
March 9, 2020 7:22 PM UTC
  • The number of coronavirus infections in China is starting to fall.
  • Chinese citizens are asking if increased government monitoring and surveillance will follow suit.
  • Many believe that the coronavirus provided the Chinese government with an excuse to ramp up mass surveillance methods.

As the coronavirus spread throughout China, then the world, a horrified audience watched it unfold on their television screens and social feeds.

No one was paying attention to the surveillance implementations and “preventative measures” taken by the Chinese government.

Surveillance in China has reached new heights following the coronavirus outbreak. | Source: Twitter

We’ve reached the stage where ground zero for the coronavirus, Wuhan, could see new infections drop to zero by the end of March.

What does that mean for the government’s increased level of surveillance?

As the Coronavirus Infection Rate Drops, Will the Chinese Government Reduce Surveillance?

China has a talent for exercising control over its citizens. The communist government is developing a “citizen score” to offer an incentive for “good behavior.”

The coronavirus offers an opportunity for the Chinese government to increase surveillance, unencumbered by international criticism.

It’s all required to fight the spread of the coronavirus, right?

Popular apps are adding new features that reduce privacy. | Source: Twitter

Not all Chinese citizens feel that these emergency surveillance measures will disappear if and when the threat of the virus decreases. Chinese citizen Chen Weiyu told The Guardian:

I don’t know what will happen when the epidemic is over. I don’t dare imagine it. Monitoring is already everywhere. The epidemic has just made that monitoring, which we don’t normally see during ordinary times, more obvious.

An App That Determines Where You Can Go, and What You Can Do

An app called Alipay Health Code has drawn a lot of criticism from Chinese citizens. It works by assigning each user with a color based on various factors such as travel history and exposure to potential carriers of coronavirus.

One user had his status changed from yellow to green for driving through Hubei without stopping. This means quarantine.

Is the Alipay Health Code app warranted, or is it a breach of privacy? | Source: Twitter

A new planned update will allow users to monitor the status of the people around them. They will receive rewards for reporting any fellow citizens who break the rules.

Wang Aizhong, a Guangzhou resident, commented:

This epidemic undoubtedly provides more reason for the government to surveil the public. I don’t think authorities will rule out keeping this up after the outbreak. When we go out or stay in a hotel, we can feel a pair of eyes looking at us at any time. We are completely exposed to the monitoring of the government.

Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, claimed:

The use of these systems is taking place without privacy law or surveillance law that effectively protects people’s privacy rights, to allow them to challenge such designation or the imposition of quarantine.

Perhaps most disconcerting is that once measures like these are in place, they’re not likely to go away. Darren Byler, a tech expert, specializing in Chinese government surveillance techniques, commented:

Once these systems are in place, once things are built, once they’re designed — you can’t put them back in the box, and once political leaders see the utility of them and see that they can extend their power, extend their control, then, of course, they will continue to use them.

Could the U.S. Implement Similar Measures to Combat the Coronavirus?

Byler noted the security measures that emerged in the U.S. after 9/11:

From the US context, the PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security, and countering violent extremist programs that the US put in place initially after 9/11 were focused on Muslim Americans, but have now been radically expanded to look at asylum seekers of all types, like people coming across the southern border into the US.

There’s no telling what new type of supervision will arise in the wake of pandemic fears. The coronavirus will likely become less of a threat, but the repercussions felt by ordinary citizens may just be starting.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.

Aaron Weaver edited this article for CCN.com. If you see a breach of our Code of Ethics or Rights and Duties of the Editor or find a factual, spelling, or grammar error, please contact us.

Last modified: June 24, 2020 1:03 AM UTC

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Aubrey Hansen @Words_By_Aubrey

I'm a full-time royal & entertainment commentator at CCN. I've had my opinions and links to my work on the royal family featured by outlets such as The Daily Mail, International Business Times, and The Express. Reach me at aubrey.hansen@ccn.com