The potential reach of the state into our individual biology and genetic makeup is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have crystallized just how quickly and readily machines, algorithms, and computing power can be combined with biological data and used in technologies that subjugate bodies and control populations.
As the Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown, the authorities carried out large-scale remote temperature measurements of households in apartment complexes through drones equipped with infrared cameras. Drones were also used to patrol public places, tracking whether people were travelling outside without face masks or violating other quarantine rules. Chinese police forces debuted augmented reality (AR) smart glasses powered by artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, designed to recognize individuals with potential COVID-19 symptoms. The glasses have facial recognition capability to identify and profile individuals in real-time and can also record photos and videos. As Wuhan started to open up again, the authorities introduced “Health Code,” an app people were required to use when entering and exiting residential areas, supermarkets, subways, and taxis, among other spaces. The app stores your personal information, including your ID number, where you live, whether you have been with people carrying the virus, and what symptoms they had. As you touch in or out on entering or exiting, the app gives you a colour: green means you can go anywhere, yellow means you have to quarantine for 7 days, red for 14 days. The app also surreptitiously collects—and shares with the police—your location data.