Over 1 Million Chinese Were Monitored by Regime via COVID-19 Database in May

By Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue
Frank Yue is a Canada-based journalist for The Epoch Times who covers China-related news. He also holds an M.A. in English language and literature from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China.
September 19, 2020Updated: September 20, 2020

During the month of May, more than a million people were being closely monitored by Chinese authorities for their risk of contracting the CCP virus, an internal Chinese government document obtained by The Epoch Times shows.

The public security (police) bureau of Wuhai city, Inner Mongolia, issued a notice about “fully advancing the construction of police big data apps,” which highlighted that the Chinese regime maintained a national COVID-19 database for “high-risk populations.”

The notice, issued in May, stated that there were more than 1,170,000 people in the database. It would be updated daily with information, such as the body temperatures of people entering the city, who are screened at the city’s checkpoints; and the number of passengers entering local railway stations and airports. They would be rated into four categories, based on the severity of the outbreak in their place of residence.

Epoch Times Photo
An internal document from the public security bureau of Wuhai city, Inner Mongolia, from May 2020. (Provided to The Epoch Times)

In addition, data would be collected on people’s whereabouts: where they’ve eaten, stayed at,  traveled around, went shopping, or entertained themselves, according to the notice.

The police bureau said they would collaborate with internet companies, tech firms, and three telecommunications giants—China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom—to maximize their surveillance.

The document did not mention how many citizens total have been monitored under the database since the pandemic broke out.

The Chinese regime’s use of high tech to monitor its citizens has previously raised concerns among human rights and cyber experts, who note that the data is often collected without users’ consent.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, popular Chinese messaging app WeChat developed a “health code” feature that allowed authorities to scan a barcode on people’s phones and check if an individual is virus-free, has had contact with virus patients, is COVID-19 positive, or exhibits symptoms of the virus. Some experts, such as Human Rights Watch, warned that the personal data collected and analyzed by police authorities could be exploited to track down and target dissidents.

State media recently reported that Guizhou Province has become a super “big data hub,” with police utilizing technology for “prevention and control” purposes.

Nanjing Daily used the example of a local resident surnamed Yang to illustrate the power of the database. Yang, who made a business trip to Wuhan on Jan. 22, was taken by surprise when officials showed up at his home a week later for physical checkups. The officers drawing on big data not only found out all of his close contacts during the trip, but also their whereabouts.

In another case, a person wrote on social media that a disease control official, through surveillance cameras, located the rider sitting next to him while he was on a bus to alert him about a missed phone call from the official. The two had no prior contact before the bus trip.

In February, deputy director of the command center of Nanjing’s police bureau Dai Xiulin said in an interview with state-run Nanjing Daily that the bureau has created files for each “key COVID-19 target.” According to Dai, with big data comparative analysis, police could detail the whereabouts of key targets and send orders to police stations for “accurate home visits.”

Gu Qing’er and Eva Fu contributed to this report.