By Rachel Marsden, columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at rachelmarsden.com
France has gone authoritarian in inept fashion, as its bid to control the movement of its citizens failed TWICE in a week when the platform that generates government QR codes was overwhelmed. The result, predictably, was chaos.
France and other budding authoritarian countries with ambitions to lord over their citizens’ movements by introducing health passes have eyes that are bigger than their stomachs. They have proven repeatedly that they’re far too incompetent to practice proper authoritarianism. Events last week are a case in point.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced in the dead of summer that suddenly all French citizens would require a health pass to access all venues in daily life with a capacity of 50 or more people – meaning a negative Covid-19 nose swab test, the full vaccination protocol, or a positive Covid test no more than six months old (after which you’re expected to ignore your acquired immunity and succumb to the jab).
Suddenly, people camping in the middle of summer found themselves unable to use the outdoor pool at their vacation destination and unable to take high-speed trains back home without the health pass. And this pass takes only one form – that of a QR code generated by a government-run platform.
When a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, enters your test or jab information into the system – called SIDEP (which stands for ‘Population Screening Information System’, like something out of a bad sci-fi movie) – you receive a link via text message and/or email that you click to download the QR code to a government-issued smartphone app called ‘TousAntiCovid’ (or ‘All Anti-Covid’). This can then be scanned by security agents at the entrance to swimming pools, gyms, shopping malls, restaurants, hospitals, libraries, movie theaters, or trains.
This useless system of apartheid, in practice, allows negative tested unjabbed to mingle freely with non-tested but jabbed potential Covid carriers. It also, in practice, is completely unreliable in the image of its creators.
On August 9, the same day that the system was expanded beyond just ‘leisure venues’ like gyms and pools, Macron’s start-up nation project crashed for several hours, leaving people locked out of daily life.
Apparently, the government wasn’t prepared for the number of people who all needed to request a QR code at the same time. But then, just four days later, on the Friday of the August holiday weekend, as people were scrambling for tests and QR codes to access their travel, hotels, and other activities, the system crashed yet again from 3:30pm to at least midnight, again apparently due to usage volume.
Pharmacists took to social media to complain in real time. “The government is as usual not up to the task… As pharmacists, we test and vaccinate in our dispensary without appointment from Monday morning to Saturday evening… The SIDEP site crashes regularly,” said one.
Another tweeted directly at Macron: “@EmmanuelMacron THE SIDEP PLATFORM THAT DOESN’T WORK; HOW DO I REPORT PEOPLE?”
Yet another tried addressing Health Minister Olivier Veran, saying that World of Warcraft’s gaming platform was more reliable than the government’s system: “Hello @olivierveran. Is it normal to have less connection problems on @Warcraft_FR than on the SiDep? What do I do with the vaccinations and the tests?”
One citizen tweeted the Olympique Marseille football club to ask how they were supposed to get into the match against Bordeaux over the weekend without the coveted QR code: “A question @OM_Officiel: given that the Sidep site does not work to send the QR Codes of negative antigenic tests, how do we do it?”
Several others captured the frustration of living in our new dystopia: “SIDEP YOU’RE DEAD HOW DO I GO TO THE RESTAURANT?”
It’s one thing to have designs on creating a massive data dragnet under sanitary pretext – which some Western countries appear to now be doing in order to compete with China’s data collection system of ‘social credit’, which uses people’s private information to control them by dictating which venues and activities they’re permitted to access. But it’s another to not even have the discipline or the competence to be authoritarian.
About the only thing worse than an authoritarian government is an inept authoritarian government. The result is chaos, as we’re discovering.
And by the way, who actually manages the health data of French citizens? Where does it go? It’s a question worth asking given that our governments are so insecure that they see hackers lurking everywhere, ready to pounce on their vulnerability and capitalize on their incompetence. Why should any of us trust any of our health information to governments that are less able to protect our private data than we are ourselves?
Up until now, French health data in the pandemic era has been entrusted to Microsoft, with ‘plans’ to migrate to a French provider still in the works.
But the damage may already be done.
Government health data collection – for QR code purposes or otherwise – is a question of sovereignty, both personal and national. And France’s data regulatory body – the CNIL (or the “National Commission for Informatics and Freedoms”) – has already sounded the alarm on the country’s outsourcing of Covid related health data to American service providers, making it accessible to the US government.
Last year, the commission reminded the French government of “the concerns raised by the European Data Protection Board concerning access by United States authorities to data transferred to the United States, and particularly the collection and access to personal data for national security purposes under Section 702 of the US FISA Act.”
Why should any of us trust these people with anything, let alone our private information or our health? Particularly when they couldn’t run a drunk fest in a vat of ale.