The Chinese government is currently implementing a countrywide electronic surveillance system, referred to as the 'Social Credit System'. The system will be used to score each of the country's 1.3 billion citizens based on their behaviour, such as financial credibility, social media activity and run-ins with the law. The government aims to have the system fully functioning and for each citizen to have their 'credit code' by 2020.
The intention of the Chinese government is both economical and moral in its aim to combat fraudulent activity and encourage a 'new citizen'. According to Rogier Creemers, a Belgian-China specialist at Oxford University, the government plans to promote "core socialist values such as patriotism, respecting the elderly, working hard and avoiding extravagant consumption". A poor credit code could result in citizens being unable to apply for certain jobs, housing or credit to start a company.
An Ambitious Project
Lagerkvist, a Chinese Internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, feels the system is "very ambitious in terms of both depth and scope in its scrutinising individual behaviour and what people read. It's Amazon's consumer tracking with an 'Orwellian political twist"".
A spokesperson of Human Rights Watch China predicts a shocking future for the country as a result of the system. "There is currently intensive surveillance of sensitive groups, such as dissidents, but the social credit system is on another level. This is an effort of surveillance of all people".
Lagerkvist wonders whether the system can be achieved. "Implementation may prove tricky, due to agency turf wars and the reluctance of companies to fully comply". Internet firms are likely to be resistant to the system as they are aware of the privacy concerns of their users. Creemers is convinced however, that Chinese Internet giants like Alibaba will cooperate with the government, stating that "these companies are in a symbiotic relationship with the government".
In the US, "companies like Google or Facebook tend to fight for the privacy of their clients against the prying eyes of intelligence agencies". The main difference between these giants being that the Chinese government and large Internet companies can exploit 'Big Data' together in a way that is not possible in the West.
Chinese Giants On-board
Chinese internet firms are indeed interested in plans for the system. Ant Financial, a subsidiary of eCommerce giant Alibaba, developed an app that rates a person's creditworthiness on a scale of 350- 950. The score is determined by lending behaviour along with hobbies and friends for example. If your friend has a poor credit rating or engages in playing video games 24 hours per day, it is likely to reflect badly on you.
The Chinese press has presented the system as being limited to financial credibility scoring. Plans for the future of the system include citizens being able to rate each other. It is envisaged that citizens will be able to rate their doctors or even give a poor score to a company with a high carbon footprint, as the system expands to include companies and institutions.
Professor Wang Shuqin is working on the system and claims that the "mechanism for establishing financial creditworthiness, is ready to be put into practice" and that "doing business in China without it is too risky".
Adding non-financial factors to the system, like the 'socialist core values' she regards as a bonus. "The behaviour of the majority, is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in core socialist values is behaving well".
What do you think of the Social Credit System? Would you support expansion to the UK?