China is in the process of setting up a vast surveillance system that will track every single one of its 1.4 billion citizens in a drive that includes an Orwellian social credit system that Beijing rolled out last year, ranking citizens based on behavior and doling out rewards or punishment based on scores.
And now, the Chinese are beginning to get a taste of the real-life ‘Black Mirror.’
A report by Associated Press says that the government blocked people from buying plane or train tickets a grand total of 23 million times last year because of low social credit scores.
People were blocked from buying high-speed train tickets 5.5. million times and from purchasing airline tickets 17.5 million times for various offenses including failure to pay taxes or fines.
That’s a nearly fourfold increase compared to last year’s collective figure of 6.5 million.
The idea of social credit was first mooted circa 2007 before the government launched several opt-in systems in 2014. China’s social grading system has been compared to Big Brother, Black Mirror and many other dystopian future sci-fi labels. While not exactly a world first, the country’s surveillance system will be unique-- and worse—than anything else that preceded it once it’s complete around 2020.
Most countries do have some sort of citizen grading system. Credit checks are almost universal wherein data brokers trace the timely manner in which we pay our debts. Lenders and mortgage providers use these credit scores to evaluate our creditworthiness. We also have social-style scores that we use on online sites like Amazon and eBay while Uber drivers and passengers rate each other. Related: Gold Jewelry Fuels $20 Billion Valentine’s Spending Spree
China’s social credit system takes this idea to a whole new level. Caught jaywalking, playing your music too loud on the train, fail to pay a court bill or your taxes and you risk losing certain rights including booking a flight or train ticket. The country does not as yet have a single nationally coordinated social credit system but rather local governments have their own social record systems.
No one us sure of the exact methods that the government is going to use to monitor its citizens. But the final system is likely to be downright creepy if currently available technologies are any indication. Here are some of the social surveillance systems already in use in China:
#1. Facial recognition technology
At least 16 provinces, cities and municipalities across the country already use facial reconition systems to scan citizens with a 99.8 percent accuracy. Last year, police using facial recognition systems managed to locate and arrest a suspect in 60,000-person pop concert.
#2. Group chats admins spying on people
The Beijing government holds people criminally liable for content posted in group chats. The regulation applies even to private and encrypted apps such as WhatsApp. The government also requires tech companies to monitor and report any illegal activities to the authorities.
#3. Forced installation of spying apps
US-funded Open Technology Fund has reported that the government forced Uighurs, a small ethnic community in western China, to download a spying app that scans videos, photos, ebooks, and other files and sends the information to an outside server.
#4. Spying on people’s online shopping habits
The Communist Party wants citizens to be responsible and on their best behavior, and people who spend frivolously by buying non-essentials are penalized under the social credit system. For instance, people who play too many video games are labeled irresponsible and slapped with a low score while buying diapers online is likely to be seen as a good thing and elicit higher scores.
#5. Your car spying on you
More than 200 automakers that sell electric vehicles in China send at least 61 data points to government-backed monitoring programs under rules published in 2016. These include American and European manufacturers such as Tesla, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler.
By Alex Kimani for conil.me