China’s terrifying “social credit” system isn’t planned to be fully implemented until 2020, but we’re already seeing facets of it being put in place. In May, people who have committed acts of “serious dishonor” will reportedly be unable to travel on trains or flights for up to a year.
Reuters first reported the policy announced in two notices posted to China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s website. The social credit system is designed to place various hardships on citizens who’ve committed one of a variety of violations such as spreading false information about terrorism or refusing to pay a debt. The latest penalty will include temporary bans on travel via aeroplane or train for people who are accused of infractions such as using expired tickets or failing to pay social insurance. From Reuters:
The move is in line with President’s Xi Jinping’s plan to construct a social credit system based on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, said one of the notices which was signed by eight ministries, including the country’s aviation regulator and the Supreme People’s Court.
China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score.
According to Marketplace, the system has already been used to deny loans to “discredited” members of society. The program was first formulated in 2013 and the list had grown to include 9.59 million people by the winter of 2016.
Travel restrictions have been selectively imposed on debtors in the past, but the new policies are expanding the infractions that will get citizens blacklisted.
Unlike Black Mirror‘s slick and colourful version of the nightmare rating system, China is just using cold hard data processing backed by a highly centralised government. Citizens use a personal ID card number for formal business such as booking a flight and informal registrations such as signing up for a social media account.
Forever-President Xi Jinping has consolidated power through a systematic agenda that’s framed as an effort to root out corruption, but also includes targeting his adversaries. The social credit system can be seen as an expansion of the anti-corruption campaign to China’s wider citizenry, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be abused in a similar fashion.