China to rate citizens’ online moral behavior

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

May 4, 2015

In some of the most frightening news we have heard of late (and there is no shortage of scary stories around these days!) Rogier Creemers, a Belgian specialist on China at Oxford University, has published a full translation of China’s new electronic system that will use a variety of criteria, such as financial history, criminal record, and online behavior to assign each of its 1.3 billion citizens’ a ‘citizen score’

This score will be accessible through a national database, and will affect individuals’ prospects of applying for jobs, acquiring bank loans, and more.

The Social Credit System was announced by the Chinese authorities last year, but because the details have until now only been available in Mandarin Chinese, it has not received much international attention. Creemers explained to Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant that,

With the help of the latest internet technologies the government wants to exercise individual surveillance. The [East] German aim was limited to avoiding a revolt against the regime. The Chinese aim is far more ambitious: it is clearly an attempt to create a new citizen.

As we said, scary stuff indeed! Creemers goes on,

This is a deliberate effort by the Chinese government to promote among its citizens “socialist core values” such as patriotism, respecting the elderly, working hard and avoiding extravagant consumption. On the labour market you might need a certain score to get a specific job.

Those deemed to have a low ‘citizen score’ will be placed on a blacklist, and can expect to suffer a range of punitive measures. The plans include the provision to,

Establish online credit black list systems, list enterprises and individuals engaging in online swindles, rumourmongering, infringement of other persons’ lawful rights and interests and other grave acts of breaking trust online onto black lists, adopt measures against subjects listed on black lists including limitation of online conduct and barring sectoral access, and report them to corresponding departments for publication and exposure.’

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the system (and one that aptly recalls the ‘vast network of citizens turned informants’ used by the Stasi in Creemers’ East Germany example) is how the data will be collected… by citizens ratting on other citizens,

‘Imagine a Chinese person being able to rate his doctor or his professor, as is already happening in the US. And he or she might also give a bad score to polluting companies, as the system will be applied to companies and institutions as well.

That the underlying purpose of the Social Credit System is fundamentally about social engineering is confirmed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which notes that (in its opinion) the rapid social changes China has experienced over the last two or three decades have changed it ‘from a society of acquaintances into a society of strangers,’ which has brought a resultant decline on moral standards,

‘When people’s behavior isn’t bound by their morality, a system must be used to restrict their actions.

This policing of citizens’ morality aspect of the system is further confirmed by Professor Wang Shuqin, who is helping to develop it,

Especially given the speed of the digital economy it is crucial that people  can quickly verify each other’s creditworthiness. The behavior of the majority is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in socialist core values, is behaving more decent.

It is expected that from 2020 every Chinese citizen will have a combined credit/citizen score, in addition to the already required ID card.

It difficult to imagine a more Orwellian nightmare (although the scope of the new plans would likely have given even Mr Orwell himself a nasty shock), but given the Chinese government’s ongoing determination to crack down on the civil liberties of its own citizen’s, and to exert control over their actions, the introduction of such as ‘citizen score’ system was perhaps inevitable…

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