After Ian Lahiffe returned to Beijing, he found a camera mounted on the wall outside the door of his apartment. After a trip to southern China, the 34-year-old Irishman and his family were quarantined for two weeks at their home, a mandatory measure imposed by the Beijing government to stop the spread of the new corona.
He said he opened the door as the camera was being installed, without warning. "This is an incredible erosion of privacy," Lahiffe said. "It simply came to our notice then. And I do not know how much is really legal. "
Although there is no official announcement that the cameras should be placed outside the homes of quarantined people, this has been the case in some cities across China since at least February, according to three people who shared their experiences with the cameras on CNN, also as social media posts and government statements.
China does not currently have a specific national law regulating the use of surveillance cameras, but devices are already a regular part of public life: they often monitor people crossing roads, enter a mall, dine in a restaurant or board a a bus.
More than 20 million cameras have been installed across China since 2017, according to state television station CCTV. But other sources indicate a much larger number. According to a report by IHS Markit Technology, now part of Informa Tech, China has installed 349 million surveillance cameras since 2018, almost five times the number of cameras on United States.
But now the pandemic has brought surveillance cameras closer to people's privacy: from public spaces in the city to the doors of their homes - and in some rare cases, surveillance cameras even inside apartments.
China is already using a digital "health code" system to control people's movements and decide who should be quarantined. To enforce quarantine in the home, local authorities have resorted to technology again - and were open about the use of surveillance cameras.
A regional government office in Nanjing, eastern Jiangsu Province, said it had installed cameras outside people's doors in self-quarantine to monitor them 24 hours a day - a move that "helped save staff costs and increase efficiency of work, ”according to a Feb. 16 post on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform.
In Hebei province, the government of Wuchongan province in Qianan city also said it was using surveillance cameras to monitor quarantine residents at home, according to a statement to website her.
In the eastern city of Hangzhou, China's Unicom, a state-owned telecommunications company, helped local governments install 238 cameras to monitor quarantined residents since Feb. 8, the company said in a statement on Weibo.
At Weibo, some People posted photos of cameras that said they had recently been installed outside their doors, as they quarantined their homes - in Beijing, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Changzhou, among other cities.
Some seemed to accept the surveillance, although it remains unclear how much criticism of the measure is tolerated in the censored and monitored. Internet of the country. A Weibo user who entered quarantine at home after returning to Beijing from Hubei Province said he had been informed in advance by his neighborhood that a camera had been installed in his home. In his post he wrote "I respect and fully understand the installation of the camera."
Another Beijing resident said he did not believe the camera was necessary, "but because it is a standard requirement, I will accept it," wrote Tian Zengjun, a Beijing lawyer.
Others concerned about the spread of the virus in their communities have called on local authorities to install surveillance cameras to ensure that people follow quarantine rules.
Jason Lau, an expert on secrecy and a professor at Baptist University in Hong Kong, said that people all over China were used to the prevailing monitoring long before the coronaio.
Cameras in houses
Some people say that cameras have even been installed in their homes.
William Zhou, a civil servant, returned to Changzhou City in eastern Jiangsu Province from his hometown of Anhui Province in late February. The next day, he said, a community worker and a police officer came to his apartment and set up a camera pointing to his front door - from a cupboard inside his house.
Zhou said he didn't like the idea. Ask the community worker what the camera would record and the community worker showed him the videos on smartphone of. Zhou was furious and asked why the camera could not be placed outside, but the police officer told him that it could be vandalized. In the end, he said the camera stayed in the closet despite the loud protest of.
That afternoon, Zhou said he had called the mayor's phone line and the local epidemic control center to complain. Two days later, two local government officials appeared at his door, asking him to understand and cooperate with the government's efforts to control the epidemic. He was also told that the camera would only take "still pictures" when his door was moving and would not record video or audio.
Zhou said it would be good to place the camera outside his front door, because he would not open the door anyway. "Installing it in my house is a huge invasion of my privacy," he said.
Zhou said two other quarantined residents at his apartment complex told him they also had cameras installed in their homes.
The epidemiological control center in the area confirms the use of cameras to impose quarantine at home, but does not provide further details.
How do cameras work?
There is no official figure for the number of cameras installed to impose quarantine at home across China. However, the Chaoyang regional government in Jilin, a city of four million people, said it had installed 500 cameras since February 8.
All over the world, governments have adopted less intervening technologies to monitor whether a person leaves their apartment. In the Hong Kong, for example, all those who come from international arrivals are quarantined for two weeks at home and must wear an electronic bracelet, which is connected to a smartphone application that notifies them authorities if they move away from their hotel apartments or rooms. South Korea uses an application that monitors their location with GPS and sends alerts when people leave quarantine. Last month, Poland launched an application that allows quarantined people to send selfies to inform authorities that they are staying at home.
Even in Beijing, not everyone in quarantine has a camera outside their home. Two residents who recently returned to the city of Wuhan said they had a magnetic field installed. alarm at the doors of their apartments, which would alert community workers if they went outside.
The legal side
China does not currently have a specific national law regulating the use of surveillance cameras in public places. The Department of Homeland Security has released a draft regulation on security cameras in 2016, but the decree is awaiting approval by the national legislator of the country. In recent years, some local governments have issued their own camera regulations.
Beijing-based lawyer Tong Zongjin said the installation of cameras outside a person's front door was always in a legal gray area.
Add to the complexity of the problem is that these cameras were installed by the authorities during a public health emergency for epidemiological control purposes, so a person's privacy must be balanced against the public interest and security, Tong said.
On February 4, China's cyberspace government issued a directive urging cyberspace regional authorities to "actively use big data, including personal information, to support the prevention and control of the epidemic" while protecting people's privacy. .
The directive prohibits the collection of personal data to control the epidemic without the consent of organizations that have not received approval from the health authorities under the Chinese Council of Ministers.
He also stated that The collection of personal information should be limited to "core groups" such as confirmed or suspected Covid-19 patients and their close contacts and that the information collected should not be used for other purposes or made public without consent. Organizations that collect personal data must adopt strict measures to protect data from theft or leakage, the document said.
A new era of digital monitoring?
Earlier this month, more than 100 human rights and secret organizations around the world issued a joint statement calling on governments to ensure that use digital technologies for monitoring and monitoring of citizens during the pandemic is carried out in accordance with human rights.