After Lunar New Year, the government will enforce the use of ‘Leave Home Safe’ app in certain premises—gyms, restaurants, government buildings. At the same time, the government is looking into implementing it on public transport. Together with the real-name registration for SIM cards, it is clear that the government is trying to put every citizen under surveillance.
To prevent us from fighting back against surveillance, the government is cunningly provoking a confrontation among the pro-democracy camp. Under its current policy, if a customer refuses to leave his/her personal details or scan a QR code with the ‘Leave Home Safe’ app, he/she will be denied admittance to the business premises or else the business will be suspended from operation for 3 to 14 days, on top of paying a fixed penalty. If it is an eatery, it will also lose the privilege to stay open till late. The government now provides venues’ occupiers with great incentives to comply with the rules, and forces consumers to comply as well.
Now ‘yellow shops’ and pro-democracy consumers have been placed in a dilemma. On the one hand, the shops desperately need to open again to sustain themselves by complying with the rules and assisting the government to implement mass surveillance in the city; on the other hand, consumers are keen on resuming their normal life as soon as possible, apart from supporting shops that are in need of help by surrendering their privacy to the authorities.
If the citizens are reluctant to follow the rules, the shop owners might fall into an illusion that they no longer support the Yellow Economic Circle, being unwilling to help them through this difficult time. The shops that ask the citizens to use the Leave Home Safe app to check in might feel like government’s accomplices.
This can easily break the solidarity and bonding we have built over the last 18 months. Divide and conquer is the best trick in Beijing’s playbook for dissolving the opposition camp, which is exactly what they are doing now. So, what are we going to do now?
As for now, if customers are not able to use the Leave Home Safe app, they can also choose to leave their information in an alternative way. Some shops intend to use handwritten cards to record information and destroy them regularly; some will arrange for customers to fill in information online; others indicate that they will only serve takeaways.
All the solutions we can think of now will cost us a bit more time and a bit more trouble in daily lives. It is tempting to just comply with what the government asks for in exchange for a normal life, which is clearly much easier. Yet to be frank, how can life that is constantly monitored be normal? Self-censorship and government surveillance are in no way normal and acceptable.
The government is cracking down on us in every aspect of life, telling us through its actions that no matter how ferociously we fight back against it, we cannot escape its crushing force. But it is not true. The government, despite being powerful, is not almighty. The feeling of powerlessness that comes with this is our daily life and will erode our determination if we do not address it. There is always room for resisting or at least increasing the cost of the government gaining full control over us.
I think the key to the problem is to ‘try’, to try to influence the operation of these powers, to try to change our relationship with the government and with other people. Even though we may not succeed in breaking free from the power of data, we are still trying to find ways to deal with it.
(Glacier Kwong, born and raised in Hong Kong, became a digital rights and political activist at the age of 15. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Law and working on the course for Hong Kong in Germany. Her work has been published on Washington Post, TIME, etc.)
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