Beijing scraps Covid-19 tracking bracelets following backlash

Beijing COVID-19 surveillance electronic wristband

Faced with widespread criticism, several Beijing districts last week walked back a decision requiring that travelers from at-risk areas wear a tracking bracelet during quarantine, the second time this month that the capital has turned around on pandemic measures.

Earlier this month, after announcing that unvaccinated individuals will be barred from certain crowded areas like gyms and galleries, the authorities quietly scrapped the decision just over 24 hours later following a massive backlash.

Both incidents are a rare pushback in a country where the public has largely complied with measures introduced in the government’s pursuit of a “zero-Covid-19” policy.

China reported 935 new infections for Tuesday (July 19), of which 862 were asymptomatic.

In a recent social media post that went viral, a man said he was told by his residential compound in Changping district in northern Beijing that he had to wear an electronic temperature-tracking wristband.

He realised that it could connect to a smartphone, which was meant to make it easier to report his daily temperature.

“I told (a compound employee) that if the wristband can connect to the Internet, it must be able to track my whereabouts as well, it’s almost the same as an electronic shackle,” he wrote on social media Weibo.

The device was made by Beijing Microchip Sensing Technology, but it did not have a standard safety marking seen on most products in the Chinese market that guarantees, for example, the protection of personal data and physical safety when using the products.

His residential compound could not guarantee the safety of his personal data, or where exactly it could be shared, he wrote. But about a day later, the user posted that the tracking devices had been recalled by the compound in Changping.

Similarly in Shunyi, the eastern Beijing district where the city’s main airport is located, residents reported being issued the same device after returning home from trips outside the city.

An employee at a tech firm, who wanted to be known only by her family name Lin, said it was on day six of a week-long quarantine after returning from Shanghai when she was told she would have to wear the device.

“The local community worker just sighed when I told her I wasn’t going to wear it because it was collecting so much personal data,” Lin said.

Screenshots of the app paired with the device showed that it also recorded other information like heart rate and sleep data.

Lin said collecting travel history and location information would be useful, as the data can prevent the spread of the virus, or even to contact trace. But in this case, the authorities have overstepped the boundaries, she added.

“It’s like when they tried to force people to take the Covid-19 vaccines,” Lin noted. “We want autonomy over our own bodies, and the information that it produces.”

Since late June, the National Health Commission has been reminding local governments not to arbitrarily impose Covid-19 measures, even setting up a platform for citizens to report those who do so.

The platform now receives between 400 and 500 complaints a day, a senior commission official told state media. Most involve preventing travelers from entering an area or forcibly quarantining them, expanding quarantine areas without approval, or extending quarantine time.



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