How China Is Deploying Drones and Data to Tackle Coronavirus | WSJ


(man speaking foreign language) – [Narrator] This woman is being scolded for being outside without a face mask and was chased back into her home. (man speaking in foreign language) – [Narrator] These people
are being admonished for hanging out in a group.
(drone buzzing) They were all caught
by Chinese authorities who have been deploying drones equipped with high-resolution
cameras and loudspeakers. (man speaking foreign language) – [Narrator] It’s one part of China’s massive surveillance strategy to tackle the spread of the coronavirus which has reached just about
every region in the country. The virus has infected
more than 80,000 in China, resulting in the deaths of more than 2000 people in the country, far surpassing the death toll from SARS. – The difference between 2003 and 2020 is really enormous in terms of
the government’s reliance on and development of
surveillance technology. Almost none of these tools
were on offer at that time. – [Narrator] Sophie Richardson
is the China Director at Human Rights Watch. She says during this public health crisis, China is embarking on an
unprecedented use of surveillance by using big data and its citizens. So what exactly is China’s
surveillance strategy and can it work to battle the epidemic? (man speaking foreign language) – [Narrator] There are an estimated more than 300 million
surveillance cameras in China and authorities are using them
to monitor Chinese citizens. – Many of the surveillance
cameras in use in China now are equipped with facial
recognition capabilities which simply gives the
authorities the ability to track who specifically has gone to which precise location. – [Narrator] Combine that with data scraped from hospital records, police files, and public
transportation history. All that is stored and
linked to national ID cards, which gives the Chinese
government granular information about all its citizens. In January, a man who tested
positive for the coronavirus used public buses and subways to crisscross China’s
eastern city of Nanjing. The police posted his journey
with specific dates and times on social media with a warning that anyone who was in that
area get tested for the virus. China’s public health authorities have been candid about the use of big data during this public health crisis. (Li speaking foreign language) – [Narrator] They even
developed a mobile phone app called the Close Contact Detector. The app has a database of people who have tested positive or have symptoms, so as soon as you type in your name and national ID and log in, the app will tell you if you’ve
ever come into close contact with someone who tested positive
or if you’re in the clear. So far, more than 200 million
people have used the app. – These new and different
uses of technology around the coronavirus may help resolve some of
the public health concerns, but it’s also another
way for the government to gather large amounts of
information about people, really, effectively without their consent and, in some cases, without
even their knowledge. – [Narrator] Chinese health
officials say all this data is in the pursuit of
controlling the epidemic. (Xue speaking foreign language) – In China, many people
probably have not developed that kind of awareness in terms
of protecting their privacy, protecting their civil liberties. – [Narrator] Yanzhong
Huang studies global health at the Council on Foreign
Relations in the U.S. He says many in China want
this type of monitoring because it’s about life or death. – And when they were given the choices of protecting their health and protecting their
civil liberties, you know, probably would choose the former even to the detriment of the latter. – [Narrator] Huang says
increasing population control during a health crisis
can be a slippery slope. – This widespread use of
surveillance technologies may also encourage the use
of the same technologies, surveillance techniques
even after they operate for purposes may not
be really justifiable. (pleasant orchestral music) – [Narrator] People are also a big part of its surveillance apparatus. After all, President Xi Jinping said the fight against the
virus was a people’s war. Authorities send out text messages telling people to go
directly to authorities if they come from Hubei Province where the coronavirus first emerged and announcements are
posted all around town encouraging everyone
to monitor each other. (man speaking foreign language) – [Narrator] Police patrol streets telling people without
face masks to go home. Some managers of apartment complexes go door to door to check on
residents’ health conditions. – This may sort of suggest
that this would be viral of these cultural issues we are weighing. You saw there’s people
monitoring their neighbors, you know, or even their relatives. – [Narrator] Some provinces
have started giving an incentive to monitor family members’
travel histories and health. (boy speaking foreign language) (girl speaking foreign language) (woman speaking foreign language) (man shouts in foreign language) – [Narrator] In Sichuan
Province in western China, snitching can snag you
as much as 5000 yuan. That’s roughly equivalent
to a monthly salary that’s more than minimum wage. One government in Guangdong Province is offering 30 face masks in
exchange for snitch reports. During this public health crisis, China hasn’t been the only country to use technology to track patients. In South Korea, health
authorities are legally allowed to sift through credit card records, CCTV footage, and mobile phone locations to pin down the travel histories of those infected or at risk. That information is then
shared with the public. In China’s surveillance state, not only do authorities have access to more data than other governments, but citizens have no way to opt
out of that data collection. Beijing says all this is in the
best interest of the public. – We’ll have to be able to see how the virus ultimately played out, who was affected, who wasn’t whether the surveillance
technology helped. (dramatic orchestral music)

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