China's Social Credit System: An Orwellian Nightmare? (Discussion/comments)

Discussion in 'Members' Club Room' started by SinoSoldier, Oct 30, 2018.

  1. SinoSoldier
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    SinoSoldier Major

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    I've been loosely following the development of the "Social Credit System" for a short while now, and I'd like to share my thoughts on the issue. While the title may provide foresight into my stance on the program, I'll do my best to entertain both sides of the argument while offering my own proposals for its improvement.

    What it is
    In a really compact nutshell, the Chinese "Social Credit System" is a rating assigned to each individual by the CCP to gauge the so-called "trustworthiness" of each citizen. It functions, on a basic level, much like any other credit system you would see at financial institutions or online forums. However, the key difference is that this statewide apparatus extends this surveillance to all aspects of an individual's life: personal, educational, political, and social. There is no opting out, and having a bad credit in one domain of life (e.g. finances) can affect your chances in another (e.g. education) even though the two might be wholly unrelated. The state wields the power to deny a citizen access to prestigious education, transportation, specific services, or freedoms based on a solitary score that is assigned to them. Moreover, critics have pointed out that innocuous acts such as criticizing the government or deviating from state-accepted "political beliefs" could detract from an individual's "credit score", all at the behest of the state. TL;DR - it's a rating system used by the government to assess its citizens, based on their individual actions/beliefs, and to mete out "punishment" and "reward" as the CCP sees fit.

    Potential benefits
    Take this with a spoonful of salt, because there really isn't anything beneficial that can come out of this. I suspect that much of the political & intellectual groundwork for this project was laid out in the wake of several high-stakes scandals in China such as the vaccine scandal and food safety issues. Proponents of this system claim that a "credit rating system" helps weed out companies or individuals that otherwise cut corners & skirt regulations to the disadvantage of other folks. Indeed, the emphasis of the system on financial honesty and personal integrity (whatever that means according to the CCP) might temporarily motivate folks to heed societal & governmental norms, and perhaps even do its part in improving the demeanor and behavior of Chinese people when they travel abroad. Of course, the driving force behind this hypothesized cultural & societal "paradigm shift" comes not from personal behavioral growth but a fear of state-sponsored reprisal.

    Massive potential for abuse
    I don't know what the "checks & balances" are, if any, but it doesn't require much mental gymnastics to realize how quickly this system can snowball into a dystopian mechanism for state-sponsored censorship and personal micromanagement. Those in control of the social credit system would have unfettered access to every detail of a citizen's daily life and wield the ability to coerce that individual to heed the CCP's "rules". Unlike privatized social credit systems, individuals would have no chance of escaping from this form of surveillance or to prevent on aspect of their lives from interfering with the prospects of another. Unless a system is put in place that limits the government's insight into the personal lives of their citizens and simultaneously subjects the CCP to its own "credit system" (hint: never going to happen), this is an apparatus that is rife with potential for misuse and systematic abuse. People in China are already having their "points" docked for speaking out against the CCP and its policies and for actions that have no negative impact on the wider community. We can only expect this to grow in complexity, rigidity, and increasingly totalitarian as the CCP exploits new ways to milk the system for its power & omniscience.

    No hope for the regular folk
    On a personal level, one can fathom how such a system can effectively & rapidly derail an individual's life. A rating system that transcends all avenues of an individual's existence allows it to punish him/her by denying X for a perceived fault in Y. In the free world, most (yes, there are exceptions) credit systems operate independently of another; having not paid your student loans will not prevent you from buying a plane ticket and vice versa. Similarly, institutions do not share this kind of data with each other (e.g. a hotel will not know how many parking tickets you've accumulated) and hence people in the West find comfort in the fact that they have at least a sense of privacy. This, of course, is effectively upturned by the implementation of a nationwide surveillance apparatus that aims to link all avenues of a person's individual, romantic, business, political, and vocational ventures. Having a misadventure in one avenue means that you might lose your standing/potential in another; this can lead to a downward spiral of crime & despair that may be triggered by one innocuous act. If an individual, for example, cannot borrow money due to his/her political beliefs, this begets the potential for additional crimes, which subsequently leads to further restrictions & reactionary behavior from that person. This is very destructive and is overall a significant contributor to societal unrest.

    Societal implications
    I've a feeling that this ultimately leads to discontent and rivalry between regular folk in China, something that is ultimately unhealthy to cultural and national development as a whole. People will surely find ways to exploit the system, engaging in behaviors that might not be at all conducive to their own personal development or that of Chinese society as a collective whole. As an apparatus reliant on data and digital communications, this will undoubtedly be a massive target for hackers. Additionally, having an entire person's life be dependent on a state-assigned score sows distrust between individuals and societies/organizations that traditionally have been held in high regard (doctors, NGOs, etc.).

    A political ploy
    Now, let's face it; the gold mine that comes with the implementation of this surveillance network is the sheer quantity of data that the CCP can utilize to root out those who opposes it. Coupled with facial recognition technology, the Communist government is merely years away from having the ability to single out "dangerous" individuals, concoct a rationale for their detainment/"disappearance", and use its vast array of surveillance equipment & hardware/software to find and deal with those individuals. With the CCP being the sole governing body in China, it would have unequaled access to details of its citizens that should remain private. Any attempts to dismantle or "check" the system will be met with swift heavy-handed "justice". At the very least, those who implement the system will surely be exempt from the ramifications thereof. It doesn't take much to see through the ostensible purpose of this surveillance network that has been pushed by state media & government propaganda.

    Some possible improvements / checks & balances
    While I strongly oppose the implementation of this system, here are a few proposals that I think might improve it. Note that many of these implementations are reflective of how social credit rating systems are used in the West.
    • Privatize credit rating systems. Instead of delegating control & surveillance to the government, these systems should instead be managed by individual institutions and operate independent of each other.
    • Disallow government access to data with the exception of crimes & taxes. Of course, what constitutes a "crime" is questionable in China. This, of course, will never happen.
    • Limit the punitive aspects of this credit system to major companies and/or governmental institutions. This frees individuals from being affected by the system but allows for the monitoring & surveillance of organizations that have the power to do harm.
    • Disallow the sharing of data between certain institutions. Having too many "anti-government" Weibo posts shouldn't bar an individual from accessing adequate healthcare.
    • Government officials should also be subject to the credit rating system and with much more restrictions/punishments than regular folk.
    • Allow individuals to "opt out" without suffering punitive actions. Having a great credit rating should reward the individual but those who choose to forfeit the system shouldn't be punished for their decision.
    • Give individuals with low scores a "grace period". The purpose of any credit rating system is to eliminate "bad actors" and dishonesty rather than to mete out punishment to those with less fortunate circumstances. Having more leniency may even contribute to the improvement of people who had a less-than-ideal history.

    What are your thoughts on this? Has anybody personally been affected by this system?
     
  2. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    How can anyone be affected by something that doesn't exist yet?
     
  3. SinoSoldier
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    Scaled-down systems are being trialled in certain cities, I think. The plan is to have a nationwide network up & running by 2020 or so.
     
  4. Jura
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    Jura Lieutenant General

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  5. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    Then maybe you should post some information about those trials? Do they support your hypotheses?
     
  6. SinoSoldier
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    SinoSoldier Major

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    Anecdotal reports from one city, Chengdu, points towards a much less-friendly future for the system:

    http://www.sixthtone.com/news/844/visitation-rights-lawsuit-bans-single-mom-trains-planes

    I'm certain this won't be the last report of the system's shortcomings and grip on people's lives.
     
  7. Jura
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    Jura Lieutenant General

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    Mar 19, 2018
     
  8. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    As far as I'm aware, the only city that had a social credit trial was Suining. The article you linked refers to a flying blacklist due to legal issues. That's a far cry from any "social credit" system.
     
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  9. solarz
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    solarz Colonel

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    Here's an article from Global Times:

    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1015248.shtml

     
  10. Bltizo
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    Bltizo Lieutenant General

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    As I've written before I think it goes without saying that China needs a way to bring in the majority of the population without traditional credit histories to have a credit history of some sort. a social credit system is imperfect but better than nothing.

    I think the potential for abuse and/or political consequences of a social credit system that's been reported on endlessly are simplistic and a bit naive actually -- the truth is that China does not need a social credit system carry out any of the social or political actions that various articles have described.
     
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