Despite the fact that China’s controversial “social credit” system isn’t scheduled to be fully implemented until 2020, many areas are already rolling it out as a way to monitor the country’s 1.3 billion citizens. Plenty of folks are already reporting that their ability to travel is being impacted.
As the Independent reports, the social credit system is a way for China to reward or punish people or organisations based on their “trustworthiness”. If you’re the kind of person who volunteers or donates blood, you’ll be awarded credit points. If you’re getting speeding tickets, charging “under-the-table” fees, posting “fake news” online, smoking in non-smoking zones, or buying too many video games, you’ll be punished. The government is analysing you based on how you act on buses, how you drive, and how customers of your business rate you.
The full rewards and punishments aren’t clear, but it essentially sounds like your “reward” will be being able to conduct yourself as per usual, whereas punishments will make it way more difficult to do even the most basic things in life. Difficult travel has been the most obvious punishment, but it’s also believed that slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools, banning folks from jobs, preventing hotel bookings, and losing the right to own pets are among the list of things a Chinese national might be experiencing for making a mistake in the eyes of the government. You can’t really even take a step without the government knowing about it and judging it.
The social credit system was announced in 2014, but it’s finally beginning to take effect now. States like Hangzou have already implemented the system, and others are beginning to follow suit. As of May this year, 11.14 million people had been banned from flying while another 4.25 million were banned from using a high-speed train. More recently, three million people have reported being barred from business class train tickets. It’s becoming more and more difficult to conduct oneself in society, even in some pretty basic ways.
Maybe even worse—the government will have the right to publish records of business and individuals who are deemed to be untrustworthy. So not only are citizens being punished by the government, but they can also start being punished by other citizens.
Beijing residents are slated as becoming the first to be targeted in the 2020 rollout of the plan, with its 22 million residents facing being assessed. But, given the fact that it’s already pretty difficult for them to travel, the government might already be peeping into their affairs and making judgements.
If you’re wondering why the Chinese folks don’t just, y’know, get more covert in their actions—well, it’s pretty much impossible. Most aspects of life in China require a government ID to access services that are centralised by specific companies that are often part-owned by the government. This is also the government that’s employing facial recognition and emotional sentiment monitoring in classrooms. You quite literally cannot have a feeling without it impacting the way the government views you.
It’s likely that we’ll find out the full extent of what the social credit system entails as it becomes implemented across the entirety of the country. Until then, we can only hypothesize given exactly how many folks have been disallowed from accessing basic travel.