Much like what we have for our financial credit ratings, China's "social credit" system attaches a positive point value to behavior that the government views as praiseworthy (showing integrity, responsibility and/or trustworthiness) and a negative point value for behavior it wants to discourage. "Bad" behavior includes spending too much time playing video games, not caring for aging parents, poor driving, jaywalking, not paying one's debts and, of course, criticizing the government.
The enormity of this effort is impossible to overstate. Chinese companies (and foreign companies authorized to do business in China) collect massive amounts of data on Chinese people from their cellphone and internet use and turn it over to the Chinese government. Dozens of government agencies share data and information with each other. Hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras watch Chinese people in cities across the country (with hundreds of millions more to come). Advanced facial recognition technology and complex algorithms assist in determining the identity of those being surveilled in public places. And, of course, there are the "informers" — members of the local community who report the good and bad conduct of their neighbors and co-workers to authorities.
Eventually, every Chinese citizen over a certain age will have a "social credit" score.
The consequences of a low social credit score are serious. Those with low scores are "blacklisted" and denied travel benefits, including access to visas or even the ability to buy plane or train tickets. They can be denied employment or promotions at work. Their children can be denied access to the best schools and universities. Their names and faces are often placed prominently on public billboards to "name and shame" them.
Chinese people interviewed by western news organizations defended the social credit system, claiming that it will produce more responsible people and a better society. This is perhaps unsurprising, as China does not have the individualist culture that America does. But then, the Chinese know that their social credit score may well go down if they do criticize the system, so one may have to take the glowing reviews with a grain of salt.
However, Americans should not just shrug off these oppressive initiatives as something that could only happen in China. For one thing, a significant amount of the surveillance technology used by China's communist government was developed and provided by American companies. These are names we know and recognize, including Seagate, Intel and HP Inc., among others.
If the technology can be used there, it can be used here for the same purposes.
That should concern us, especially given other trends we are seeing here in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought out the statist authoritarianism in many of our government officials — and much of the citizenry. Every day, we see more calls for social compliance on pain of sanctions.
Information about the efficacy of COVID vaccines and the need for masks are two good examples of why this trend is so dangerous. We cannot seem to get solid, verifiable information on either. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted gears yet again on the need for vaccinated individuals to wear masks and the need for K-12 children to wear masks in schools.
Just two weeks ago, we were assured that masks were not necessary because the vaccines are effective. Now, we are being told that the vaccines are effective, but that masks are necessary anyway. But we are not being shown the data that allegedly supports the ever-changing "consensus." Dr. Sanjay Gupta stated on CNN, "this is data that has not even been published yet."
And yet, despite the capriciousness of the government's official party line on all things COVID, social and broadcast media are rife with videos of public shaming of non-mask wearers, and calls to "make life hard" for those who will not (or cannot) take the vaccine, including refusing access to public places like restaurants and sports arenas and even denial of medical treatment.
Public and private employers across the U.S. are mandating the vaccine, and dozens of lawsuits have been filed by Americans who have already been fired for not getting it.
Just last week, the White House announced that they were calling on Facebook and other big tech social media companies to censor what President Joe Biden calls "misinformation" about COVID vaccines and the virus itself. But those same social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) have already been actively censoring accurate information about COVID that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC and Democrats wanted suppressed; specifically, evidence supporting the theory that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
And this is in addition to censoring other accurate information when it promotes conservative political ideas or casts unfavorable light on favorite Democrat politicians. Facebook and Twitter conveniently banned news stories about Biden's son Hunter and the damning information on his laptop right before the November 2020 presidential election.
And there's more. Since the 2020 election — and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — there has been an active attempt by the Democratic Party and their lap dogs in the press to smear all Trump supporters as "racists," "extremists," "white supremacists," "domestic terrorists" and "the insurrectionist next door."
In such a climate, it is even more concerning when the FBI asks people to start reporting family members, neighbors and friends whose beliefs or behavior are "suspicious." And Americans are doing just that.
How far are we, really, from a China-style surveillance state and social credit system?