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Social Credit System (China)

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The Social Credit System (SCS, 社会信用体系) is a system currently proposed by the Chinese government, supposedly to reform its credit system and increase market trust.[1] It intended to consolidate data on every citizen and business, and potentially introduce a "credit score" system to rank citizens in order to reward or punish their behaviors, and due to its vagueness and secrecy, critics have called it a mass surveillance tool.[2][3] It was launched in 2014 and is supposed to roll out nationwide by 2020.[1][2][4][5] According to the Communist Party, the SCS will "allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step".[3]

Background[edit]

China's financial system suffers from a lack of trust, largely due to the lack of regulations, fraudulent products, and underdeveloped financial credit services. In order to encourage more people to utilize financial credit systems, the Chinese government authorized several corporations, including the conglomerate Alibaba, which utilizes the voluntary Sesame Credit system to score its users based on their shopping habits.[1] While the Chinese government eventually rejected Sesame Credit as an indicator of creditworthiness, the system is often conflated with social credit due to Alibaba's involvement in the credit reform process and concerns over data security.[1]

The Chinese government called for these vague systems to be rolled out by 2020[1]:

  • 1) Regulations on financial credit services
  • 2) Credit investigation systems
  • 3) Credit oversight systems
  • 4) A market of credit services
  • 5) Incentives for using credit, as well as a punishment system for misuse

Concerns[edit]

Due to the Chinese government's dependency on surveillance and disregard for individual privacy, as well as lack of transparency on the system, critics have called it a mass surveillance tool.[1] It can be used to quickly identify and undermine citizens deemed subversive without disturbing the society at large. Even the collection of everyday digital footprints raises privacy and ethical concerns, especially at the hands of a centralized, authoritarian government.

Citizen score[edit]

The major concern over the social credit system is the proposed application of a unified, publicly available citizen score which ranks citizens based on their life habits.[5] The exact methodology is a secret, but examples of infractions include bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online.[6] According to their credit, citizens and companies will be punished or rewarded.

Currently, the "unified social credit" calls for the collection and consolidation of information of both citizens and corporations, including the existing national identifications of Chinese citizens.[1] A few regions are currently experimenting with a points system, although they do not offer any regulation systems.[1]

Further concern over the social credit system is compounded by the Chinese government's love of constant surveillance, and introduction of technology such as cameras equipped with facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking to cast a constant gaze over every citizen. Smartphone apps can be used to collect data and monitor online behavior on a day-to-day basis. Also internet use and communications, hotel stays, train and plane trips and even car travel in some places, can be tracked. Then, big data from more traditional sources like government records, including educational and medical, state security assessments and financial records, can be fed into individual scores. The whole apparatus is regulated and interpreted by advanced, big-data-crunching AI networks.[3][2][7]

Punishments[edit]

The social credit system also introduces blacklisting for both individuals and corporations. Some types of punishments include:

  • Travel Ban: By December 2017, 8.7 million people were prevented from taking flights and 3.4 million from taking high-speed trains. While no official reasons were provided, it has been speculated that this is due to the travel blacklist introduced.[8] [9]
  • Ostracism: People with low scores are barred from getting financial credit or government jobs.[3] If the parents of a child score below a certain threshold, their children would be excluded from top schools in the region.[4]
  • Public shame: In May 2018, a short cartoon with the photographs of debtors' faces began playing at movie theatres, on buses, and on public noticeboards with a voiceover that said: "Come, come, look at these. It's a person who borrows money and doesn't pay it back."[8] Similar photos of lawbreakers were displayed on big outdoor screens alongside their names and government I.D. numbers.[7]

The current blacklist include defaulters on court judgments, i.e people who have lost legal cases and appeals, and have not yet served their sentences or fines.[1] They can get off the blacklist by performing their judgments. However, there is a lack of public trust in Chinese courts to give fair judgments and sentences, making it rather easy to get on the blacklist due to their high conviction rates.[1]

References[edit]