The Roman historian Tacitus once observed that ‘the more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.’
This age-old assertion still rings true today. And as technology has advanced, so too have the methods of total control. Mass surveillance and the collection of personal data have arguably become the modern indicators of government corruption.
Nowhere is this more relevant than in China, where this digital dictatorship is already well underway. For decades, journalists and citizens have been closely monitored to deter them from speaking out against the party online.
In a move that can only be described as dystopian, the Chinese Communist party is introducing a new ‘rating’ system. One that would ensure people are upstanding, government-fearing citizens in all aspects of life.
In the name of social cohesion, the Chinese government will enforce a ‘social credit system’ which measures and records an individual’s ‘trustworthiness’.
In cities where the system is being trialled, each citizen is given a personal ID card where the score is stored. Everyone begins with 100 points, but citizens can reach up to 200 points by performing ‘good deeds’. These include charity work, blood donation and recycling.
If your credit rating is high, you reap the benefits. Which can sometimes involve perks like free gym memberships and cheaper public transport fares. But more importantly, a good score allows you to remain as an equal member of society.
Abide… or else
Conversely, the implications of a sub-par credit rating are dire. If your score drops too low, you face travel and public service restrictions, and your university and job prospects are seriously impacted.
A score can be brought down by acts like littering, unpaid or late bills, domestic abuse and traffic infringements.
Other acts that can harm your credit rating are: Jaywalking, leaving false product reviews, cheating in online games, and of course, speaking critically about the Party.
In a statement released by the government, their objective with the system is to ‘raise the awareness of integrity and the level of trustworthiness of Chinese society’.
The Chinese government plans to launch the nationwide system by 2020 with help from Chinese internet giants Alibaba and Tencent. They’re in the process of rolling out apps that will create a credit score based on your social media and e-commerce behaviour.
In collaboration with the government’s scheme, these apps will ensure that the online and offline behaviour of citizens is thoroughly recorded. Creating a hoard of data stored in a national data base.
This big-data empowered social credit system has just started trial in the Guizhou province. And if it’s successful, it will be rolled out nationwide in the next two years.
It’s easy to dismiss this system as a uniquely Chinese scheme to keep citizens under the thumb of the communist party. But it’s something Australians should be concerned about, too.
Surveillance of all sorts is increasingly employed by governments. And whether it’s in the name of ‘safety’ or ‘improving integrity’, there are always risks involved.
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