China Uses ‘Virus Passport’ Mobile App to Stifle Protest

As part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, several nations and some states in the U.S. have developed digital “vaccine passport” systems as a way to screen persons traveling or using public accommodations.

States like California have said the digital system “empowers individuals” by making it easy for them to access their own records in addition to showing third parties they have been vaccinated. Many privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of digital technology for medical vetting, arguing that tyrannical or simply incompetent governments could run roughshod over individual liberty.

Communist China is already showing how dangerous the technology can be. Authorities there used a simple click of a button to stifle a protest that had been planned by hundreds of persons in the Henan province. Hundreds of bank depositors who were unable to access frozen accounts were planning to gather in protest.

The government stopped them by turning the health code apps on their mobile phones from “green” to “red.”

Without a green indication on the app, citizens are not allowed to use public transportation or access public spaces, restaurants, and shopping areas. Ordinary travel is rendered virtually impossible.

One bank depositor told Reuters that the government is “putting digital handcuffs on us.”

Some Chinese provinces have required travelers to register travel plans online allegedly because of COVID outbreaks. One person who wanted to travel from Wuhan to the planned protest said her app turned red because police had her identity details from a previous protest and her travel registration. She said that bank seizures have caused her to lose access to more than $340,000.

Several depositors told reporters that when they arrived in Zhengzhou by train or car their apps were turned red as soon as their phones were scanned inside the city.

In the U.S., the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed concerns about digital passports that have been put in place in parts of California, New York, Oregon, and Hawaii in the name of COVID.

ACLU analyst Jay Stanley wrote that a rush to create digital passports could easily result in systems that are “not good for transparency, privacy, or user control.” He warned that the infrastructure could compromise the issuance and security of credentials for all parts of public life.