The Covid-19 pandemic is the perfect test case for invasive surveillance measures…

People are scared of getting sick. So they’re willing to put up with governments suspending civil liberties and this is happening in countries all over the world (Taiwan, Israel, Italy, Germany, Austria, and USA to name just a few).

The next step could be the “digital health passport” system the Chinese government has rolled out. It’s built into an app on your smartphone. And it’s based on whether you have a clean bill of health.

To get a better handle on how it works… and what it’s like to live in this kind of system… read the interview with two contacts in China who teach in a school in a province south of Shanghai. They live on campus. And as they reported, they have to show their health passports to authorities every day.

Q&A With Mr. & Mrs. “Z”

CG: Can you tell me about this digital passport you use over there in China?

Mr. Z: It’s basically a type of barcode called a QR code…

Sample Chinese Health Code

Mr. Z’s green Health Code (blurred to protect Mr. Z’s identity)

Mr. Z (cont.): It’s all done through Alipay. When you come into the country, you have to sign up for the app. You give them your passport number. And they link it to your national ID that way.

[Alipay is the largest online payment platform in the world. More than 1 billion people use it globally to send, receive, and spend money.]

We’re teachers. We’re living at our school. Every day, we have to report to the authorities in the school and send them a screenshot of that green QR code.

That health code stays green as long as we don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus. If we have symptoms, we’re supposed to report them, and it turns yellow. If those symptoms get worse, we report that again, and it goes red.

But by the stage it goes yellow, I think what happens is they come and quarantine you. Then they keep a close eye on how things progress. If you get worse, the code will go red. Then they take you to a hospital or a facility, I imagine.

CG: Do they rely on you to self-report the symptoms?

Mrs. Z: Yes, they do. It’s like a city pass. If you want to go out in the city, you have to have your green card with you. And if you go into any shop or restaurant or public building, they will want to check it.

When you show your pass, they check your temperature. If they find you have a fever – 37.3 degrees Celsius [99.1 Fahrenheit] is the threshold – they report you. That turns the color of the QR code on your app to yellow.

Mr. Z: At the start of each day, we have to send a screenshot to authorities in the school. If we don’t send them that screenshot every single day, they want to know why that is. And they’ll come around and knock on our door. And we need to send a screenshot to get out into the city on the weekend.

CG: One thing we’re curious about is how this app-based health passport dovetails with Alipay, which is kind of like a state version of PayPal. Is that right?

Mrs. Z: It’s like PayPal on speed. Alipay is connected to your bank account.

It’s really a way of monitoring your spending… Not just your buying habits, but also where you socialize, where you visit, those sorts of things.

If you go into the Alipay app, there’s a menu. You have options for takeout restaurants, hotels, movies… So you can buy all your cinema tickets… you can top up your phone… you have your railcards… there’s a health part… And then there’s the city service… and that’s where you find the green card.

CG: That’s where you access your green QR code, is it? Inside Alipay?

Mr. Z: That’s where we access pretty much everything.

When we go to the shops, we pay for everything through Alipay. When we get a DiDi – that’s the Chinese version of Uber ­– we flash our Alipay app. And the driver scans a QR code it generates on our phone. That’s different from the health codes. It’s another kind of QR code, directly linked to your bank account.

Is this coming to your town??

That’s the system that’s up and running already. It’s almost like a cashless society in a way. The health passport is the new layer on top of this existing system. And it is just one method. Google and Apple have joined forces to release a proximity tracking app that will put 3 billion people around the world under their surveillance (all in the name of “health” protection).