COVID Tracking Apps Have Eerie Echoes of Chinese Surveillance System

President Joe Biden's COVID team appears to have entertained an electronic test-and-trace program pioneered by the University of Illinois that would have let businesses deny service to patrons based on their health data, a PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows. The program has eerie echoes of China's surveillance system, which uses data from citizens' phones to impose quarantines.

A PowerPoint produced by the school suggests scaling up the university's intrusive contact tracing system for use across the United States. Its file name, "2020-12-14 Shield Biden Covid Team," indicates that it was presented to the Biden team in December, amid an ongoing search for solutions to a seemingly insoluble problem: how to stop the virus without stopping the economy? The presentation proffered an answer.

The school's system uses a mobile app that records test results and Bluetooth data to determine who has been exposed to the virus—and "links building access" on campus to that information. Local businesses have also embraced it, making entry conditional on a "safe status" reading from the app.

The system resembles the one being used in China, where a mandatory app gives each user a "health status"—green, yellow, or red—that dictates access to public spaces. The University of Illinois app likewise divides users into three categories: "yellow" if they've recently tested negative, "orange" if they've potentially been exposed, and "red" if they've recently tested positive. Only students with a yellow status may enter buildings.

Surveillance by Lianhao Qu is licensed under Unsplash License
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