In this week's edition of EXPOSED!, where I look into the misdeeds and dodgy dealings of the corporate state, once again we return to a nation state that rivals even the murkiest of multinational malfeasance...
“Allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
- China's Communist Party
Normally in the West when we talk about a credit system, it refers only to one's financial track record. This allows potential lenders to view your credit score during any loan application you may make. But China has taken this one step further by creating a national database that merges a wide variety of information on every citizen, assessing whether taxes and traffic tickets have been paid, whether academic degrees have been rightly earned and, when the one-child policy was being enforced, whether females have been instructed to take birth control. Described by critics as “nightmarish” and “Orwellian”, a low score can badly effect your life. The score creates a picture of trustworthiness of the individual, with China's elite State Council claiming that social credit will “forge a public opinion environment that trust-keeping is glorious” and it warned that the “new system will reward those who report acts of breach of trust.” Individuals can earn points, for example, for reporting those who violate new restrictions on religious practice such as Christians who illegally meet in private homes to pray or Muslim Uighur who they spot praying in public, fasting during Ramadan or just growing a beard. To be completed this year, the system will assess individuals, enterprises and government agencies on credit in four areas – administrative affairs, commercial activities, social behavior and the judicial system.
Probably the largest social engineering project ever attempted, it will be a way to control and coerce over a billion people and China will become the world's first digital dictatorship. There was no public debate about implementing the system and the Party is using it to win back some of the control it lost when China opened up to the world in the 1980s and rapid development followed. It is a way to silence dissent and ensure the party's absolute dominance.
Your score can plummet if the government declares you as being untrustworthy. You could have defaulted on a loan, made the mistake of criticizing some government policy online or just spend too much time playing video games. All these actions and many more can move you well down the rungs on the social ladder.
Some of the negative effects of the low social credit score are:
Travel bans. Individuals may be banned from flying or getting on a train, or from purchasing business class tickets. Some hotels have also banned people with low scores.
School bans. People with bad scores or their children may be banned from enrolling in higher education or applying for high school.
Job prohibition. A bad score can mean that a person may be denied the ability to perform work in a big bank, executive job or at a state-owned firm. Businesses may be excluded from public procurement projects.
Increased scrutiny. Businesses with poor scores may be subject to more audits or government inspections.
Decreased internet speeds. You internet speed may be decreased based on your behavior.
Public shaming. The government keeps a public list of individuals and businesses with a poor score. This can make it difficult for businesses with low scores to build relationships with local partners who can be negatively impacted by their partnership.
The government plan states:
“We will improve the credit blacklist system, publicly disclose the records of enterprises' and individuals' untrustworthiness on a regular basis and form a pattern of distrust and punishment.”
According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), as of 2019, 13.49 million individuals have been classified as untrustworthy and rejected access to 20.47 million plane tickets and 5.71 million high speed train tickets for being dishonest.
Liu Hu is an investigative journalist who has uncovered corruption at the top levels of the Party and he says the government considers him as an enemy. He lost his social credit when he was charged with a speech crime and now finds himself locked out of society due to his low score. In 2015, Hu lost a defamation case after he accused an official of extortion and was made to publish an apology and pay a fine. The court then demanded an additional fee but he refused and he then found himself blacklisted as “dishonest” under the social credit scheme. Hu said
“There are a lot of people on the blacklist wrongly but they can't get off it.”
It has destroyed his career and isolated him and now he fears for his family's future. The social credit system has closed down his travel options and kept him under effective house arrest in his home town of Chongqing. His attempt to buy train tickets to Xi'an is rejected as the phone app tells him that his access to high-speed rail is legally restricted. His social media accounts where he published much of his investigative journalism have been shut down. Hu claimed that during their peak, his Wechat and Weibo accounts had two million followers. Hu believes that his blacklisting is political and has tried to appeal to authorities but so far has been met with silence. Hu wants to warn the world of the nightmare of social credit and doing so could put his friends and family at risk of reprisals from the state. However Hu believes that most Chinese don't yet understand what's to come under the digital totalitarian state. “You can see from the Chinese people's mental state", says Hu.
“Their eyes are blinded and their ears are blocked. They know little about the world and live in an illusion.”
Yin Zhentao, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on finances told the Global Times that the hypothetical theories of the West are based on their ignorance.
“The purpose of the social credit system is not to monitor citizens or classify citizens into ‘good’ and “bad’ categories but to better serve people with good credit and warn dishonest people.”
As the state progresses ever closer toward its goal of monitoring all of the activities of its citizens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, society itself becomes a virtual prison.
Stay safe, stay secure, till next time.
The Privacy Advocate