Coronavirus exposes China's surveillance state

Medical workers work in the ICU of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, Jan. 24, 2020. (Xinhua/Xiong Qi)

The so-called Wuhan Coronavirus has killed more than 700 people, mostly in Mainland China, and the outbreak continues to spread with new cases on new continents. In China, Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV is also exposing the surveillance state -- apps show locations of the infected, heat-sensing cameras spot feverish disease suspects, and identify them even with ubiquitous paper face masks on.

From a Reuters story about a man who ignored the quarantine rules and “not only did the police contact him, so did his boss -- He had been spotted near Hangzhou’s West Lake by a camera with facial recognition technology, and the authorities had alerted his company as a warning.”

“I was a bit shocked by the ability and efficiency of the mass surveillance network. They can basically trace our movements with the AI technology and big data at any time and any place,” said the man, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions.

Chinese have long been aware that they are tracked by the world’s most sophisticated system of electronic surveillance. The coronavirus emergency has brought some of that technology out of the shadows, providing the authorities with a justification for sweeping methods of high tech social control.

Artificial intelligence and security camera companies boast that their systems can scan the streets for people with even low-grade fevers, recognize their faces even if they are wearing masks and report them to the authorities. If a coronavirus patient boards a train, the railway’s “real name” system can provide a list of people sitting nearby. Mobile phone apps can tell users if they have been on a flight or a train with a known coronavirus carrier, and maps can show them locations of buildings where infected patients live.

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Coronavirus brings China's surveillance state out of the shadows
[reuters.com, Yingzhi Yang, Julie Zhu]

[via techmeme]