Human-centric AI news and analysis

Chinese city’s health-tracking surveillance tech set to outlast the pandemic

Hangzhou will use the software to create a healthcare score for citizens

A Chinese city plans to turn its contact-tracing app into a permanent health tracker, deepening fears that surveillance tech introduced to fight COVID-19 will outlast the pandemic.

Authorities in the eastern city of Hangzhou have proposed combining medical records, physical exam results, and data on lifestyle choices to create a healthcare score for citizens.

Officials said the system would be a “firewall to enhance people’s health and immunity,” the Guardian reports. They aim to launch the app by the end of next month.

Each of the city’s 10 million residents would be given a colored health badge based on a collation of this data, and a score from 1-100 that will be used to create health rankings.

[Read: Snowden warns that the surveillance states we’re creating now will outlast the coronavirus]

“At the same time, we can use big data to rate group health in apartment buildings, residential communities and businesses,” said Hangzhou health commission chief Sun Yongrong.

The surveillance backlash grows

Hangzhou’s system was originally used to identify a citizen’s risk of infection by tracking their travel history and health. Their virus status was added to a QR code that showed whether they should be quarantined or allowed to move around the city.

The health codes were run by mobile payments company Alipay, which told CNBC that it had “not been contacted by any party with respect to this project.”

Hangzhou’s health commission’s website suggests the city’s moving forward with the plans regardless, further stoking tensions about digital surveillance in China.

Critics worry that the system will not only read their personal health records, but could also be used to screen job applicants and create tiered insurance pricing plans.

For other nations using surveillance tech to combat the coronavirus, the plans show that temporary security measures can quickly become permanent.

Published May 26, 2020 — 13:44 UTC

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