China’s introduction of a “social credit score” that will help the Communist Party monitor the loyalty and ensure the obedience of the country’s 1.4 billion people has already produced horror stories like ordinary citizens with no criminal history being banned from flying because they were caught jaywalking by the country’s network of surveillance cameras.
The score, which will soon be rolled out across China after first being implemented in the cities, aggregates data from a variety of government databases and other sources that have recently been enabled to share information on citizens’ activities. The score will help the government determine which citizens will receive access to social services, and which will be turned away.
And in a recent report by CBS New York, television journalists from the US interviewed one man who says his low social credit score is preventing his child from enrolling in a private school, among other majorly disruptive inconveniences. Journalist Liu Hu saw his score downgraded because of his social media posts. When the government demanded that Hu remove the posts and apologize, he immediately complied.
But the government ruled that Liu’s apology was insincere, and his low score remained. Now, Liu says, it’s his children who are being punished.
“I can’t buy property. My child can’t go to a private school,” he said. “You feel you’re being controlled by the list all the time.”
With the advent of the social credit score, Chinese citizens can face potentially major punishments for small infractions like smoking in a non-smoking area. Likewise, they can see their scores rise for “patriotic” acts like buying Chinese-made goods instead of foreign imports.
The head of a company that builds surveillance equipment for the Chinese government explained to CBS how the country’s network of traffic cameras is now being repurposed to enforce its social credit score rules.
The cameras were initially installed to catch criminals. But unsurprisingly, they’re now being used to monitor everybody.
China’s growing network of surveillance cameras makes all of this possible.
“It can recognize more than 4,000 vehicles,” Xu Li said.
Li is the CEO of Sensetime, one of China’s most successful artificial intelligence companies. It has created smart cameras for the government that can help catch criminals, but also track average citizens.
“We can tell whether it is an adult, a child, male or female,” Li said.
Ken Dewoskin has studied China’s economic and political culture for more than three decades. He says how the new scoring system truly works is kept secret and could be easily abused by the government.
Tracy: “How far into people’s daily mundane activities does this go?”
Dewoskin: “Well, I think that the government and the people running the plan would like it to go as deeply as possible to determine how to allocate benefits and also how to impact and shape their behavior.”
China initially imposed the restrictions on plane and rail travel for people with low social scores shortly before President Xi Jinping cemented his status late last year as the effective emperor for life.
A low score, the government says, can impact these and other “privileges” for up to a year. However, there are signs that the government had implemented a rudimentary version of the social credit score years earlier, when a Chinese court revealed that 6.15 million Chinese had been blocked from boarding flights for “social misdeeds.”
The social credit score is based on Xi’s “once untrustworthy, always restricted,” principle, which also entails creating “green lanes” for well-behaved citizens who categorically support the Communist Party. The Party is hoping to have a social credit score assigned to every citizen by 2020.
Everybody else should just forget about traveling to far-flung parts of the world – or even distant parts of China, as it’s only a matter of time before the social credit score becomes the most efficient tool of political repression that the world has ever seen.