China tests the waters of the social credit system | News, Sports, Jobs
The Chinese government is establishing a national social credit system. The system is troubling.
The social credit system tracks a person and assigns them a score. The score is supposed to measure its reliability. The Chinese government has already implemented this system at the regional level and will likely implement it at the national level in the near future. The use of mass surveillance technology by the Chinese government and its companies allows them to collect a lot of information about the Chinese people. The technology includes artificial intelligence, big data, and facial recognition technology.
The system gives a low score to people who engage in antisocial behavior. Examples include violating laws or rules of etiquette regarding bills, dogs, garbage, ID cards, public transportation, reservations, and traffic. Specific examples include eating on public transport, not properly segregating garbage, not visiting elderly parents, jaywalking, making reservations at hotels or restaurants, and not not to show up, not to clean up after his dog and to turn on the red lights.
The government blacklists those with low scores. It then prevents blacklisted people from buying plane and train tickets and getting fast internet access, jobs, loans and visas. It also prevents children of blacklisted parents from attending various schools and universities. For example, the National Development and Reform Commission of China reports that blacklisting resulted in the denial of 27 million attempts to purchase airline tickets and 6 million attempts to purchase train tickets. Buses and cinemas display the names and faces of blacklisted people. It sounds like the two minute hate in George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 novel. The government is also using low scores to tighten its crackdown on various minorities, such as Uyghur Muslims.
The system gives high scores for prosocial behavior. People with high scores are more likely to get a job. They also benefit from reduced waiting times in hospitals and government agencies.
Russia is considering implementing a similar system.
One of the interesting issues is whether this system is bad or bad. Peking University’s Kui Shen argues that the policy is wrong because it violates people’s rights, especially their rights to dignity, privacy and reputation. One problem with the Chinese system is that the government assigns scores and determines rewards and punishments. It goes beyond the legitimate authority of a government. However, one can imagine companies implementing an almost identical system. On the other hand, there was little, if any, backlash when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders proposed that the government take over no credit check loans and adjust them for the sake of social justice.
The problem with Shen’s argument is that people are not entitled to dignity, privacy, or reputation. The notion that a person has dignity basically means that they deserve respect. The problem is that in terms of politics, you respect someone when, and only when, you don’t violate their rights. Thus, respecting someone’s dignity comes down to respecting their rights. As a result, there is no distinct right to dignity and the appeal to it is empty.
The alleged right to privacy is nothing more than an assertion that a person’s rights to their body and property must be respected. It is not respected in the case of burglary, intrusion, search without a warrant, etc. Again, this is not so much a separate right as a tag for a handbag of other rights.
The so-called right to a reputation is a right that others do not speak or write about a person in a reprehensible manner. Other than defamation, there is no right that others speak or write about someone in a particular way. Gossip in church and temple does not infringe on anyone’s rights.
In The Hill, Tyler Grant argues that the social credit system is bogus because it is totalitarian. He notes that it looks like Orwell’s dystopian world in 1984. It certainly follows our hunches. Grant notes that the West has the machinery to implement such a system because companies already collect a large amount of data on us. They also censor us. Consider that Big Tech recently censored those who sent frank messages about COVID-19, voter fraud, and Hunter Biden.
The problem is that the system can be implemented by methods which individually do not infringe any person’s rights. For example, in the United States, a person gets a financial credit score.
A person’s debt level and payment history determine their score. A score is lowered due to bankruptcy, foreclosures and takeovers. This score affects a person’s access to insurance, jobs, and loans. While this doesn’t currently affect things like airline tickets or college admissions, it’s hard to see what’s wrong with other companies using these scores. Rating companies would likely argue that the widespread use of these scores would discourage people from defaulting on their credit card bills and college loans.
Even more troubling, a credit score could be widened to penalize someone for associating with the wrong people or expressing the wrong ideas. Think about bar associations. In 1998, the Illinois Bar Association barred Mathew Hale from practicing law in Illinois because he was a member of the Klu Klux Klan. He had already graduated from law school, was passing the bar and had agreed to follow the rules of the bar. In 1961, the Supreme Court in Konigsberg v. State Bar of California (1961) ruled that state bars can refuse to admit people to the bar because of bad character. While state bars can take a person’s opinions or character into account, it’s unclear why credit rating companies may not.
France, Germany and the UK fine and jail people for hate speech. It seems like a small step for criminalized discourse to affect people’s credit scores as well.
While China’s social credit system is totalitarian and incredibly troubling, it’s hard to see exactly what’s wrong. It is worrying that much of what is happening in the West could serve as a precedent for a social credit system here.
Stephen Kershnar is professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Send your comments to [email protected]