China’s communist leader Xi Jinping is calling for countries across the world to accept a global COVID-19 tracking system that uses QR codes in an attempt to expedite international travel. Xi proposed the concept during a virtual G20 leaders’ meeting noting that this “global mechanism” uses an electronic barcode that would help determine a traveller’s health status, according to China’s government-run “news” agency. “China has proposed a global mechanism on the mutual recognition of health certificates based on nucleic acid test results in the form of internationally accepted QR codes,” Xi said. “We hope more countries will join this mechanism.” “We need to further harmonise policies and standards and establish ‘fast tracks’ to facilitate the orderly flow of personnel,” he added.
The system provides users with a colour code based on their risk of exposure to the coronavirus and the QR codes, can be read on mobile devices. A green code indicates that someone is safe to travel, while an orange or red code signifies the need to quarantine for up to two weeks. Xi didn’t elaborate on the type of QR code system that would be used. Meanwhile, some have expressed concerns over the use of a system that was designed by China’s communist party which is known for using extreme methods to control people through censorship and surveillance. Kenneth Roth, a director of Human Rights Watch tweeted, “Beware of the Chinese government’s proposal for a global QR code system. An initial focus on health could easily become a Trojan Horse for broader political monitoring and exclusion, akin to China’s social-credit system.”
Stuart Hargreaves, a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said if a QR code is used to store classified health information then issues over privacy become “very important.” “For example what kind of information will be gathered and where will be that information stored, how is it to be generated and who will have access to it,” Hargreaves argued. Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute stressed that safeguarding private information is pivotal. “But will individuals consent to another government that isn’t their own government accessing their data? That may be the price to pay for travel,” she said.