Is this the Solution to Korona-era tourism? China is proposing to store health information in QR codes

Traveling is significantly hampered by the diverse jungle of rules in different countries. a human rights organization warns of the risks

Solution for Korona-era tourism

QR codes containing health information on the Macao border in southern China were registered on September 29, 2020. Photo; AOP

Chinese President Xi Jinping proposes harnessing QR codes to promote global mobility during the Korona period, says BBC.

During the pandemic, the diversity of travel bans, quarantine rules, and corona test requirements worldwide has become a problem, as each state decides on its own rules.

A language barrier can also be an obstacle. When passengers present documents in a foreign language in the country of arrival, it can be challenging to certify them and verify them in testing laboratories.

Xi suggests that states agree on harmonized standards and rules for recording passenger health information in QR codes, such as corona tests.

Human rights watch has expressed concern that QR health codes could be harnessed to serve China’s surveillance machinery.

Square QR codes were in use when Macao arrived in China on September 29, 2020. In China, the beginning of October is a busy tourist season, as citizens get more than a week off in honor of National Day.

QR codes are already an integral part of Chinese everyday life

A QR code is a code mark consisting of squares, dots, and lines that contain information about an object or creates a link to a website, for example. In practice, therefore, they work in much the same way as barcodes printed on store-bought products.

Smartphones are commonly used to read QR codes.

QR codes have found their way into basic Chinese life – codes are used to pay for taxis, shopping, bills, or even rent shared bicycles. According to the news agency AFP, mobile payments in China are already running out of cash. For example, the technology giant Ant Group’s Alipay is used by an estimated 731 million people a month.

The codes are also widely used in Finland, for example, in train and movie tickets and for payment.

China, a customer scanned a QR payment code for shopping

At a market selling fresh produce in Hangzhou, China, a customer scanned a QR payment code for shopping Photo: Alex Plavevski / EPA

Similar arrangements are envisaged elsewhere.

The World Economic Forum has also proposed a similar arrangement in conjunction with the non-profit The Commons project. More than a month ago, these parties presented a CommonPass application framework with the same logic.

According to the developers, in the CommonPass application, data is only stored on the user’s phone or retrieved directly from a source, such as the health information register.

The application could be presented at the time of crossing the border or even when boarding an aircraft.

Health codes are already a common practice in China

Speaking at the G20 virtual meeting of wealthy states over the weekend, Chinese President and Communist Party Secretary-General Xi also stressed that China is ready to share the coronavirus vaccine it has developed with the world.

In China, the corona pandemic’s progression has been largely brought under control, with only a few domestic travel restrictions in place. In China, health codes have been used since February.

If the code is green, its owner can travel freely, but the user of the yellow or red code is awaiting quarantine, says Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

Human rights organization concerned

Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, urges Twitter to be wary of the Chinese proposal on health codes. According to Roth, the original use could quickly turn into a so-called Trojan horse beyond political surveillance and discrimination.

According to Roth, QR codes involve similar risks as China’s control machinery and the so-called social scoring system for citizens.

If an individual gets a bad score in the scoring system, it may result in restrictions on, among other things, travel rights by air and train. Getting a loan can also be tricky.

A permanent version of a QR-code-based app has already been planned in Hangzhou, China, to help residents of the city score based on lifestyles, medical history, and health check-ups, the BBC says.

In addition to this, in Australia and Singapore, the codes have been used to trace infections, according to the BBC. They are used for logging in to jobs and restaurants, for example.

A surveillance camera was installed in Shanghai

A surveillance camera was installed in Shanghai near the Bund riverside boulevard on August 24, 2020. PHOTO: Alex Plavevski / EPA

Supercomputers can process wild amounts of data a day

With advanced technology, monitoring and screening people are already commonplace worldwide, says The New York Times.

In China, artificial intelligence and genetic testing are used to identify ethnic minorities such as Uighurs. According to the newspaper, Chinese companies and authorities claim that the systems can also identify opposition to the Communist Party or religious radicalism.

With technology from the United States, the Xinjiang region runs some of the fastest supercomputers in the world. The magazine says they can be used to comb through more material a day than one person could handle in a year.

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