A Chinese city says it destroyed a billion personal data collected during the pandemic, as local governments gradually dismantle their coronavirus monitoring and tracking systems after abandonment the country’s controversial zero Covid policy.
Wuxi, a manufacturing hub on China’s east coast and home to 7.5 million people, held a ceremony on Thursday to dispose of Covid-related personal data, the city’s public security bureau said in a statement. on social networks.
The billion pieces of data were collected for purposes such as Covid testing, contact tracing and preventing imported cases – and this was only the first batch of such data to be culled, the statement said.
China collects vast amounts of data on its citizens – from collecting their DNA and other biological samples to tracking their movements on a sprawling network of surveillance cameras and monitoring their digital fingerprints.
But since the pandemic, state surveillance has dug deeper into the privacy of Chinese citizens, driving unprecedented levels of data collection. Following the dismantling of zero-Covid restrictions, residents have become concerned about the security of the huge amount of personal data stored by local governments, fearing possible data leaks or theft.
Last July, it was revealed that a massive online database apparently containing the personal details of one billion Chinese citizens had been left unsecured and accessible to the public for over a year – until an anonymous user of a hacking forum offered to sell the data and bring it to greater attention.
In the statement, Wuxi officials said “third-party audit and notary agents” would be asked to assist in the removal process, to ensure it cannot be restored. CNN cannot independently verify the destruction of the data.
Wuxi also removed more than 40 local apps used for “digital epidemic prevention”, according to the statement.
During the pandemic, Covid apps like these dictated social and economic life across China, controlling whether people could leave their homes, where they could travel, when businesses could open and where goods could be transported.
But depending on the country abrupt exit from zero-Covid in December, most of these applications have disappeared from everyday life.
On December 12, China discarded a nationwide mobile tracking app that collected data on users’ movements. But many local pandemic apps run by municipal or provincial governments, such as the ubiquitous Covid health code apps, have remained in place – although they are no longer in use.
Wuxi claims to be the first municipality in China to have destroyed citizens’ Covid-related personal data. On Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like platform, users call for other local governments to follow suit.
Yan Chunshui, deputy director of the Wuxi Big Data Management Bureau, said the deletion is aimed at better protecting citizens’ privacy, preventing data leaks and freeing up data storage space.
Kendra Schaefer, head of technology policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China, said data collection related to Covid apps at the local level was often messy and these apps were difficult and costly for consumers to manage. local governments.
“Given the cost and difficulty of running such apps, coupled with concerns expressed by the public about data security and privacy – not to mention the political victory local governments are getting by symbolically putting zero-Covid at the lit – the dismantling of these systems is normal,” Schaefer said.
In many cases, she added, local government big data departments have been overwhelmed with dealing with Covid data, so the reduction simply makes economic sense.
“Many cities have yet to delete their Covid data – or have not done so publicly – not because I believe they intend to keep it, but because it simply does not not so long since zero-Covid was stopped,” Schaefer said.