Thursday, October 22, 2015

ACLU report on Chinese 'credit score' is frightening

Every now and then a news item appears that at first glance looks to be not very consequential but on examination turns out to be something that signals a real tipping point in the political and social environment. Such an article appeared on the ACLU website earlier this month and was subsequently picked up by a few libertarian news sites (but, interestingly, not to any great extent by the mainstream media).

The article states that China is introducing a "comprehensive credit score" system whereby everyone in that country is given a score by the government that is linked to their national identity card. The ACLU article states that,
In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like...
It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them. Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.
Anybody can check anyone else’s score online. Among other things, this lets people find out which of their friends may be hurting their scores.
Also used to calculate scores is information about hobbies, lifestyle, and shopping. Buying certain goods will improve your score, while others (such as video games) will lower it...
Sadly, many Chinese appear to be embracing the score as a measure of social worth, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
I should point out that some commentators have questioned the accuracy of the report, but it is consistent with the Chinese Communist regime's already rigid control of the internet and social media.

Paul Rahe on the Ricochet blog says, "Totalitarianism is a function of technology. Prior to recent times, governments might claim to be absolute, but they did not have the record-keeping, administrative capacity to make good on that claim. Now they can do so far more easily than ever before — without hiring armies of spies. All that they have to do is follow the population on the Internet and use computers to collect and analyze the data."

I have blogged against the encroachment of government electronic spying on all of our private communications such as the Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Act brought into law by the New Zealand Government last year. Governments always defend such laws by saying they will only be used against threats to national security. But all around the world governments are also introducing laws against so-called 'hate speech', the definition of which is usually speech that offends someone, with the interpretation of what that means left to officials to decide. Where these two types of law intersect - the means to monitor all social interactions and the criminalisation of unacceptable speech  - you have the ingredients of totalitarianism.

The Chinese credit score, if true, takes the freedom of social media and turns it into what undoubtedly will be a very effective and pervasive social and political control tool. In East Germany one in three of the population were informers for the Stasi secret police. Under this system, China will turn almost everyone into an informer for the state.

We in the West should fear China. At a time when the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is being fĂȘted in Britain, the Chinese are rapidly expanding their occupation of isolated, disputed islands in the South China Sea and continue to viciously suppress any political opposition at home. But we should fear them most of all because they lend legitimacy to Communist dictatorship and because their clout on the world stage turns our governments into appeasers of their authoritarian rule. 

Totalitarianism is infectious and we all risk catching the disease. That is why their credit score is so frightening.

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