Shedding Light in the Darkness

Big Brother Surveillance China Style

china3By 2020 China will have implemented a mandatory Big Brother social ranking score for every one of their citizens. The behavior of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity)in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

An October Wired article described the impending system. “Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated,” and “all these behaviors are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.”

A person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down.

A Business Insider report noted: the government released bullet points of proposed penalties for those who “breaks social trust” (which could be done by defaulting on a loan, for example, or voicing a dissenting opinion against the government online). According to the policy documents, “Warning and Punishment Mechanisms for Persons Subject to Enforcement for Trust-Breaking” – here’s what could happen if you’re a low scorer:

  • You won’t be considered for public office
  • You’ll lose access to social security and welfare
  • You’ll be frisked more thoroughly when passing through Chinese customs
  • You’ll be shut out of senior level positions in the food and drug sector
  • You won’t get a bed in overnight trains
  • You’ll be shut out higher-starred hotels and restaurants and will be rejected by travel agents
  • Your children won’t be allowed into more expensive private schools

“It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinizing individual behavior and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” said Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

The Chinese government has described the system as a method to improve trust nationwide and cultivate a culture of “sincerity.” The policy reads, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.” “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.”

A pilot project in southern China in 2010 gave citizens points for good behavior, up to a maximum of 1,000. But a minor violation of traffic rules would cost someone 20 points, and running a red light, driving while drunk or paying a bribe would cost 50. Causing a “disturbance” that blocks party or government offices meant 50 points off; using the internet to falsely accuse others resulted in a 100-point deduction. Winning a “national honour” – such as being classified as a model citizen or worker – added 100 points to someone’s score.

“China is moving towards a totalitarian society, where the government controls and affects individuals’ private lives,” said Beijing-based novelist and social commentator Murong Xuecun. “This is like Big Brother, who has all your information and can harm you in any way he wants.”

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