Even those in the US who urge peaceful relations with China understand that China has some serious problems with its domestic policy. Its rate of incarceration and execution rival that of the US, while its prisons are renowned for forcing inmates into acting as slave laborers. It’s not uncommon for people in the US to find notes in the goods they purchase at Walmart that have come from Chinese prisoners. China’s history of repression of churches, political dissidents, and anyone else deemed a threat to the authorities is well known. But recently it has taken a turn for the worse.
China has instituted a new totalitarian system that is known as “social credit.” It’s a system of mass surveillance in which every citizen is recorded in a government database, and details of those people are added to each individual’s file. From that, a “score” is derived that ranks people according to various characteristics. Those who engage in anti-government agitation, or who fail to pay debts, or who associate with those with low scores will see their scores lowered. Those who engage in behavior approved by the government gain higher scores.
Those with low social credit scores have already seen their ability to purchase train and plane tickets curtailed, have had their children banned from attending certain schools, and have even been blacklisted from employment. And with the rise of facial recognition technology and camera surveillance, every Chinese citizen will soon be identifiable by surveillance cameras in public, with those cameras being able to identify those citizens with low scores and point them out to authorities. In short, the system is one of mass surveillance and government-mandated discipline.
While most people in the West look at that system disapprovingly, not every country is doing so. A prime example of that is Australia, which is rolling out a test program in the city of Darwin. Darwin’s experiment with social credit will monitor people’s smartphone usage, determining which websites they are browsing, what apps they are using, etc. Anyone deemed to be a threat will be pointed out to authorities for further observation.
How anyone can read about these types of surveillance and not be creeped out by governments’ attempts to track and control everyone’s behavior is mind-boggling. But governments around the world appear to be using 1984 as a blueprint rather than a warning. The Commonwealth countries have long been the worst, denying the right to bear arms and the right to free speech as in New Zealand, and now Australia is doing its best to copy China’s worst abuses.
While no such proposals have come forward in the US, that’s probably because the government already tracks all of our internet browsing and has copies of all our emails and phone calls. How long will it be before a social credit system rears it head here?