Authorities in Beijing will judge each of the Chinese capital’s 22 million residents on their “personal trustworthiness” under a points-based system to be launched by 2020.
According to state media, the “Beijing Municipal Action Plan to Further Optimize the Business Environment” will monitor the financial credit and personal behavior of individuals and businesses – and reward or punish them accordingly.
The plan does not include details on how the points system will work, but warns that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to take a single step”.
Penalties for blacklisted citizens are “supposed to include slowing internet speeds, reducing access to good schools for individuals or their children, banning certain jobs, banning reservations at certain hotels and the loss of the right to own pets,” reports The Independent.
A roadmap plan for a national social credit program was first announced by the Communist Party of China in 2014, and about 30 local versions have been rolled out across the country, writes Daniel Sontag in a Medium post.
Earlier this year, the Hangzhou provincial government unveiled a trial program that rewards “pro-social” behavior such as volunteer work, while punishing citizens who have bad credit or violate the code of the road, among other offences.
Meanwhile, in Jiangsu province, slandering someone online will slash your “social score” by 100 points, while making or selling counterfeit products will drop you 35 points, according to Channel NewsAsia.
Government data shows that by the end of May citizens who had performed poorly in the various schemes had been denied ‘more than 11 million flights and 4 million high-speed train journeys’ , reports Bloomberg.
Critics say social credit programs are a covert way to help the Chinese Communist Party increase its authoritarian grip on the country.
Samantha Hoffman, a consultant at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told Wired that the Chinese government could use such systems to identify and punish dissidents, under the guise of improving society.
“That’s why social credit ideally requires both coercive aspects and more pleasurable aspects, like providing social services and solving real problems,” Hoffman said. “It’s all under the same Orwellian umbrella.”
However, Foreign Policy’s Jamie Horsley says the grim press reports about Black Mirror-style totalitarian surveillance are overblown.
The main objective of the social credit system is to ensure “the respect of social and economic obligations prescribed by law and the execution of contractual commitments” in a country “still plagued by endemic fraud and counterfeiting”, he says.
Individuals and businesses are blacklisted for “specific, relatively serious offenses like fraud and excessive pollution that would generally be offenses anywhere,” Horsley adds.