China’s chilling dictatorship is moving quickly to introduce social scorecards, in which all citizens will be monitored 24/7 and ranked on their behavior.
The Communist Party’s plan is for every one of its 1.4 billion citizens to be at the whim of a dystopian social credit system, and it’s on track to be fully operational by the year 2020.
An active pilot program has already seen millions of people each assigned a score out of 800 and either reap its benefits or suffer its consequences — depending on which end of the scale they sit.
Under the social credit scheme, points are lost and gained based on readings from a sophisticated network of 200 million surveillance cameras — a figure set to triple in 18 months.
The program has been enabled by rapid advances in facial recognition, body scanning and geo-tracking.
The data is combined with information collected from individuals’ government records — including medical and educational — along with their financial and internet browsing histories. Overall scores can go up and down in “real time” dependant on the person’s behaviour but they can also be affected by people they associate with.
“If your best friend or your dad says something negative about the government, you’ll lose points too,” ABC reports.
The mandatory “social credit” system was first announced in 2014 in a bid to reinforce the notion that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful,” according to a government document.
In a Foreign Correspondent episode, to air on the ABC tonight, financial credit system Alipay, Tianjin general manager Jie Cong, summarised the system in black and white.
“If people keep their promises they can go anywhere in the world,” he said. “If people break their promises they won’t be able to move an inch!”
Under the system, those deemed to be “top citizens” are rewarded bonus points.
The benefits of being ranked on the higher end of the scale include waived deposits on hotels and rental cars, VIP treatment at airports, discounted loans, priority job applications and fast-tracking to the most prestigious universities.
Dandan, a young mother and marketing professional, is proud of her high score. If she keeps it up her infant son will be more likely to get into a top school.
“China likes to experiment in this creative way … I think people in every country want a stable and safe society,” she said.
“We need a social credit system. We hope we can help each other, love each other and help everyone to become prosperous.”
BOTTOM OF THE SCALE
But it doesn’t take much to end up on the wrong side of the scale with an estimated 10 million people are already paying the price of a low rating.
Jaywalking, late payments on bills or taxes, buying too much alcohol or speaking out against the government, each cost citizens points.
Other mooted punishable offences include spending too long playing video games, wasting money on frivolous purchases and posting on social media, according to Business Insider.
Penalties range from losing the right to travel by plane or train, social media account suspensions and being barred from government jobs.
Chinese journalist Liu Hu is one of millions who have already amassed a low social credit rating. Liu Hu was arrested, jailed and fined after he exposed official corruption.
“The government regards me as an enemy,” Liu Hu told ABC.
He is now banned from travelling by plane or fast train. His social media accounts with millions of followers have been suspended. He struggles to find work.
“This kind of social control is against the tide of the world. The Chinese people’s eyes are blinded and their ears are blocked. They know little about the world and are living in an illusion.” Liu Hu said.
Seventeen people who refused to carry out military service were last year barred from enrolling in higher education, applying for high school, or continuing their studies, Beijing News reported.
Uighur poet and filmmaker, Tahir Hamut, who fled to the US, told the ABC that China’s surveillance system “suddenly ramped up after the end of 2016”.
“Since then, advanced surveillance technology which we’ve never seen, never experienced, never heard of, started appearing,” he said.
We had reported before about China’s intention to enact this program, where all of China’s 1.4 billion citizens are about to be put under greater scrutiny as the country prepares to launch its ‘social credit score’ scheme.
The project rates citizens based on their behaviour, and those who do not play by the rules are added to a list that prohibits them from certain luxuries.
Fears are growing regarding the ethical implications of scheme, with some questioning the morality of the big-brother culture.
When Liu Hu recently tried to book a flight, he was told he was banned from flying because he was on the list of untrustworthy people. Liu is a journalist who was ordered by a court to apologize for a series of tweets he wrote and was then told his apology was insincere.
“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.”
And the list is now getting longer as every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score — a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It’s believed that community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it, reports the Daily Mail.
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.”
The purpose, of course, it is for the government to use this social credit scoring system to punish people that it deems not sufficiently loyal to the Communist Party, Tracy reported. And trying to clear your name or fight your score is nearly impossible, because there’s no due process.
As we reported before, China’s ‘social credit’ system blacklists “lazy” citizens who get into debt or spend their time playing video games in a creepy initiative that could have come straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
Analysing users’ social media habits and online shopping purchases, the nightmarish system also grants real financial credit to citizens whose lifestyles are deemed to be more wholesome.
While the social credit scheme will become mandatory in China in 2020, it is currently being tested in pilot schemes which have been rolled out through private financial companies.
The most high profile of these is Sesame Credit which has been developed by Ant Financial and uses computer algorithms to score people from 350 to 950, reports The Guardian.
Likened to an episode of dystopian horror series Black Mirror, Sesame Credit rates people on factors including “interpersonal relationships” and consumer habits including buying video games.
It appears the authoritarian one-party state believes that someone who plays a PlayStation or an Xbox is an “idle person”, reports the BBC.
Those with a low-rating are “blacklisted” meaning they are unable to book a plane flight, prevented from renting or buying property and are unable to secure a loan or stay in a luxury hotel, reports Marketplace.org
One of the largest schemes currently operating is in Shanghai where jaywalking, traffic violations and skipping train fares can get you blacklisted.
But that’s not all. Citizens who do not visit their elderly parents or do not sort out their garbage into the appropriate recycling bins can also be penalised and effectively frozen out by the state.
Businessman Xie Wen spoke with MarketPlace.org after he was blacklisted following a financial dispute in which he never paid a debt to a client who sued his company.
He was then added to the Chinese Supreme Court’s list of “discredited” people.
Wen said: “It hurt my business. My clients didn’t trust me. I didn’t get much work.”
Not only was Wen banned from going on a plane or a high speed train but he was unable to send his child to private school.
The same report published in February this year says that since October 2013 nearly 10 million people have been added to the same list.
As the mandatory 2020 date looms, President Xi Jingping has cemented his grip on power by scrapping the country’s two term presidential limit making him the most dominant Chinese leader since the murderous Chairman Mao Zedong.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 18th, 2018