President Xi Jinping is urging other nations to introduce the QR code-based ‘fast track’ traveling system.
The Chinese President is looking for a more globalized system with QR codes for faster and better-traveling solutions, but human rights activists think that this policy may soon become more intrusive for the users as it will expose their data more than ever before.
China started assigning QR Health codes to its citizens somewhere in February 2020 when the country was severely plagued with the COVID-19, and most of its citizens were afflicted with the virus. This system is based on technology developed by Ant Financial, and it is available through the Alipay app and WeChat.
This system assigns the citizens of China with three coloreds; traffic-light-styled QR codes when a person registers with the system and enters their personal information like name, national identification number, and phone number. Apart from this, they have to respond to answers in detail to questions that the system asks about their recent travel history and their health. From there, the government uses all this information, and through some undisclosed third parties, a code is assigned to the user.
If the system finds out that the person has recently traveled to an area that has been heavily afflicted with the disease, or if the health status does not seem fine, the system assigns a red or a yellow code to that person. A red code means that the person has to quarantine for a max of 14 days, while a yellow code means that the person must observe a quarantine period of 7 days at least. Only a green code allows a person to travel freely and go about anywhere in the city. People who receive the red and yellow codes have to log in to the system daily and update their status there because they can only get a green code based on the information they provide regularly.
Now, in the recent virtual G20 Global Summit in which Saudi Arabia hosted the leaders from the world’s leading nations, the Chinese President Xi Jinping urged other countries to start using this QR code system for more efficient traveling. He said that all the nations must come together and introduce united and harmonized policies to allow efficient and fast traveling through the QR code system, in which QR codes will be assigned to travelers based on their health status.
According to the limited information that the Chinese President provided, these QR codes could be used to recognize the health status of a traveler based on their nucleic acid test results. This probably means that if someone wants to travel and they get their PCR test for COVID-19. Now, if this test comes back negative, it means that the RNA of the virus was not detected in that person, so they will be assigned a green code, which will help them freely travel without any problem.
Xi Jinping did not go into many details of how this system will be more practically applicable to develop a brilliant and fool-proof international traveling scheme. But he hoped that more countries would join this globalization mechanism of QR health codes.
He also urged the reopening and restoring of the global and industrial supply chains and the free flow of trading routes to be opened for important medical supplies and equipment. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many countries are still facing these challenges, and of course, this is harming the global economy.
A health status update may turn into something that will expose the users to wide-scaled political monitoring and exclusion.
As much as Xi Jinping’s suggestion sounds good, some human rights activists are wary of this solution. Kenneth Roth, a Human Rights Watch has responded to Xi Jinping’s suggestion by saying that people should be careful and understand that this type of QR coding system can expose their personal information more than ever before. They may become targets of intrusive political monitoring and exclusion in the future because of the data that they will be providing.
Regardless of what is right or wrong, China is planning to make this QR code system a permanent feature for Hangzhou so that the government has completely accessible data about every citizen’s health, past medical history, lifestyle habits, etc.
In other countries, like Singapore and Australia, these QR codes are also used but only for contract tracing to limit the spread of the COVID-19.