The Chinese Social Credit System

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Connections and similarities between Western and China’s mass surveillance - Social Credit System (SCS)

Background and historical facts

Social credit is a tech-enabled way to tie political power to social and economic development that's been discussed in the country since the 1980s, an automation of chairman Mao's mass line — a term to describe how the party's leadership shaped and managed society.

This past statement describes very well how Chinese Communist Party will have the power to label not only Chinese citizens but companies and economic infrastructures and this way keep the power with this tight control on them. This system, that can shape the whole society dramatically, is only possible today in a country like China with its huge population, culture, economic and authoritarian power. An State able to elevate order and control over privacy and hard to imagine in Western countries.


Now, we will expose some of the characteristics of china that make possible the system to be enabled.

In terms of culture and society customs, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that in Chinese the notion of privacy differs from western political and legal thought. Traditional Confucian Philosophy values morality over respect for individual rights as the guiding principle for interpersonal relationships and the government of a society . For this reason, privacy traditionally meant family intimacy or shameful secrets. Chinese law, with the exception of instance-specific clauses such as protection against unlawful search or detention, generally treats the right to privacy mostly as a right to preserve one’s reputation against insult and libel.

Another historical fact connected with the late modern history and that facilitates the implementation of SCS is that Chinese people are no strangers to arbitrary and extended forms of surveillance. since the Mao era, the Chinese government has kept Dang’an, a secret dossier, on millions of its urban residents that maintains influence in the public sector to this day. the information included in the dossier ranges from one’s educational and work performance, family background, and records of self-criticism to mental health conditions, but individuals do not have access to their Dang’an. When a completely opaque system like Dang’an has been in place for decades, an intrusive program like the SCS may feel less objectionable to the Chinese public.


Research + Development

This system is partially being tested in the remote region of Xinjiang, where another different culture from the dominant Han culture, the Uighur's, is living but it is trying to be suppressed or at least controlled in a way that many Human Right’s Organisations and observers qualify as illegal.

This “control” is built on the scaffolding of mass surveillance. cameras fill the marketplaces and intersections. recording devices are placed in homes and even in bathrooms. checkpoints that limit the movement of muslims are often outfitted with facial-recognition devices to vacuum up the population’s biometric data, so the region of Xinjiang inhabit by Uighur's is a becoming a laboratory to test all this technology for future interested clients.

Comparing both realities - China and Usa monitoring

This level of surveillance as a whole can’t be compared to any democratic country but still some features are used in Western World to monitor and even oppress communities, specially if they are part of a minority.

According to the episode of crazy/genius, produced by Jesse Brenneman and Patricia Yacob, some residents of Atlantic Plaza Towers, a rent-stabilized apartment complex in East Brooklyn have reported an omnipresence of security cameras in and around their home. in fact the landlord mailed residents a letter announcing plans to install a facial-recognition-technology system at the entrance of the buildings. The letter asked tenants for their permission, but that request seemed less than genuine, for several reasons. Many tenants never received the letter—one of the mailrooms was under reconstruction, disrupting delivery services. Worse, after some residents met in the lobby to discuss the landlord’s plan, they received a threatening letter from management warning them not to gather in public spaces again.

According to Mona Patel of Brooklyn Legal Services, the landlord may have another motive that’s just as sinister as displacement: data harvesting, so they can use this data for their own benefit for the sake of “Security”.

The decay Liberalism

With the SCS, China is boldly presenting its ambition to prove the viability of big data surveillance as a substitute for independent and accountable institutions, such as banks, courts, and transparent bureaucracies, that have traditionally been considered to be prerequisites for long-term development.

Despite its vibrant market economy, China suffers from a lack of trust among market participants that often results in rule-breaking and increased transaction costs, which you can call corruption. for instance, the Chinese State needs to be able to control the Banking System to support State-Owned Enterprises, many of which enjoy preferential access to loans despite their lack of competitiveness.

There are probably many benefits in terms of management and State optimisation if we scape the fact that attempts against privacy rights but economically. You can easier hold Chinese Communist Party members accountable for bureaucratic dysfunction ranging from loss and theft of important documents to falsification of official statistics.

Also in China, since this is a huge country, the Communist Party set the guidelines of the national policy or the goals to be fulfilled and the regional bureaucracy implements all these policies at a regional level making it difficult for the central government to supervise all these implementations apart from the possible corruption these other “regional” bureaucrats may be part of too. if they make everything public then the level of transparency will help minimising the corruption without question.

It can be also important to notice that many Chinese are very hard workers and entrepreneurs. The social status and money is a very important matter for many of them. They are not naive about the fact that this model, if it works, can be exportable to other countries, and all the good money and business opportunities coming from that. This can be also a difference with the Western World, the level of competitiveness of Chinese in terms of dedication has not counter part on Western World. In fact some of its cyber governance architecture capabilities have already been exported to some countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, countries where China has a big influence for different reasons, Pakistan with whom a very close commercial relations has been set in place because of the strategic importance of Pakistan in Silk Road Project,… They use different methods to get it done like for example at international industry meetings, government officials attempt to exchange business deals for support of their proposals on technical standards. Chinese authorities have stepped up pressure on major internet companies, including those banned in china like Google and Facebook, to cooperate with its censorship policies.

To synthesise, Chinese ambition is to control and overpass the USA as the dominant country in the world and they probably understand that the way to do it is being the dominant country in all sorts of technology and specially data technology.

We can observe how Chinese government has the capacity to enable this SCS which is almost impossible now in the Western countries. So the question is if western countries, in special USA will react and implement something similar if the system works and how this policy will shape the World as we know it today.

However from a philosophical point of view, we rescue a thought from the book Seeing Like a State written by James C. Scott, ‘Although science and technology have been the drivers of modernisation, the valorisation of the scientific organisation and standardisation of human and natural life, coupled with weak civil society and authoritarianism, often unleashed a destructive force that resulted in humanitarian and ecological crises’.

Human aspects with the eye of the west - Chinese Mass Surveillance

It is very hard to understand the steps that China is taking in order to maintain its influence in the whole territory. The world’s most populated country is sitting on a 9.597 million km2 area, which is divided into 22 provinces. China believes people must sacrifice everything to make their country great. In the western side of the world, people believe they can only make a country great if they unite. In a way or another, a country’s power relies on its people. From history, unfortunately, every country learned that using absolute power on people will always fail sooner or later. For that reason, China created the Mass Surveillance system, which can control every citizen’s daily life and make them “good soldiers”.

Racism in China

The racist incident in modern China are continu to occur and it became a sequential topic, because of the government denials. It is prohibited to state any kind of discrimination against any ethnic groups, told by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. However, in 2018 a report has been made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that claims, this Chinese law does not define what is “racial discrimination” and it lacks most anti-racial discrimination laws. Anti-Japanese sentiment remained in China, because of the pain that was made by the Japanese War Crimes, or the events like Nanjing Massacre. On the other hand, the conflict with Uyghurs is much serious. Since 2017 the government has pursued a policy, which had led to more than one million Muslims (mostly Uyghurs) being held in detention camps. This list can go all along, although it clearly visualizes China can take radical steps against religions of people that they do not consider as friends.

The day-to-day compliance

Everyone has had exams, that did not let them sleep the night before and their stomach was in pain for days. In that case, if something bad happens, we can try it again and improve. Nothing will happen. Even in the worst case, they fail the exam, but it won’t greatly influence their life. Even with those low risks, it is extremely hard to do anything else while focusing on that exam. By comparing this exam scenario with the Chinese social credit system, one can realize it requires a huge amount of care and fear in people's everyday life. Compliance and carefulness, about a wrong note or misunderstanding that can cause lives to be destroyed. Because, after a mistake, it would be impossible to get rid of the fear and extremely hard to catch up on the lost points. Unfortunately, fear can control society and China is a good example of this.

Behind the lines

The main purpose of this System was intended to create a safe, developing environment for good Chinese citizens. However, what they mean by a good citizen? A good citizen can be easily described in China. It is called AAA or AA, or A+/A/A-. They are the A’s, that can enjoy the advantages of this system. The most extraordinary among these advantages are the following three: • Giving loans according to credit points • Healthcare priority • School enrollment priority Being equal in PUBLIC healthcare is a widely spread human right in the west that is one of the main pillars of a balanced and equal society. Having school enrollment priority means, the parent must be an A citizen, which can be also motivating, but also demolishing in case of a parent did a mistake in their early life. On a lower tier level Bs are being visited regularly by officers who are giving advice about improvement, while this position is being fixed for 2 years. That means, even being a good citizen for 1 year, won’t help their mistake immediately. These times are strict and cannot be bypassed. Descending more, we can experience level C. This level is suspicious and basically harassed by the government. Officers can show up and start doing house searching for no reasons. This level is fixed for 2 years if someone manages to fall here. On the bottom, the absolutely non-creditworthy citizens are living their lives, who are mostly criminals. Although, people who are talking against the government or a political dissident are being disappeared and not even on level D. The bottom level can be “achieved” immediately after committing an intentional crime and being locked there for 5 years. Basically, if a citizen commits a crime, they are locked there at LEAST for 9 years. What is the problem? The government only punishes bad behavior, someone would think. Let’s see a few examples, how to gain and lose credit points. After starting on 1000 points, it is possible to lose 100 points by tax evasion. In order to receive 100 points, someone must donate orgasm for free or have a national award. Sending negative information on social media causes -50 points while helping the community and report illegal behaviors gave only 10. Illegally holding classes gives -40, and having more than 2 children causes -40 points. If a child joins the army, that is plus 5 points and if he wins a championship, that is plus 20. It is visible, the whole system is mostly organized to lose points and it is not balanced. It is still not clear, how the government can prove that a citizen illegally held a class or helped some kind of society. One of the main pillars of this system is snitching, that China motivates people, to be loyal to the government and not to the society. This kind of behavior can completely destroy trust and fail a society by pushing each individual to their moral edges.

Advantages of the System

On the other hand, this system can have many advantages as well. For instance, keeping eyes on criminals and being able to electronically document everything is a huge advantage. Dealing with administration and bureaucracy is simpler, therefore the country can develop faster and daily life can easier and safer. Level A can be a motivating tier for each citizen, that requires behavior and loyalism, but the previously mentioned advantages save and lift up people. Being a level B, is still not the worst scenario, since if the visiting officers realize that the citizen wants to improve, they will help him out. China can be kind to their allies and reward them, and not punish. Although, the 2 years lock is hard to accept, however, it is still possible to gain points while locked and go up to AA after 2 years. China became a safer place, however, in exchange people must give their freedom. Telling this system is wrong, from the other side of the world would not be reasonable, because no one knows how China and its citizens will perform in the “long-run”. Every system has its disadvantage, however, if people grow up in a country, where they must control their views and loyalty, they can adapt more easily. Witnessing the spread of fake news is one of the main problems in the 21st century, but in China, censorship stops it, which will bring common understandings between people. Having the same view about the world will avoid many conflicts and brings peace in some way.

Technological aspects - China’s mass surveillance

As of 2005, China has created its mass surveillance system called Skynet. This name is familiar for a lot of people since it was also the name of the Terminator movies infamous neural network-based conscious group that subjugated humanity. Although the two are nothing alike and the name is a literal translation from the original “Tianwang” meaning “justice is always done”. The existence of Skynet was revealed in 2013 by the government by which time it already consisted of more then 20 million cameras. As of 2018, the most notable surveillance mechanisms were mass camera surveillance on the streets, internet surveillance, and newly invented surveillance methods based on social credit and identity. The Chinese central government had also adopted facial recognition technology, surveillance drones, robot police, and big data collection targeting online social media platforms to monitor its citizens.

Internet surveillance

Much of what China has done regarding Internet security is an effort to extend existing control into the new medium and to strengthen political control. One can argue that they have the most regulations regarding the Internet as of any major economy. These regulations include regulating activities, access, content, the use of encryption and in some cases, the software their citizens can use. The non-existence of privately-owned infrastructure simplifies the government’s task. Their control of the Domain Name System (DNS) allows officials to identify companies and organizations using the Internet. There have been reported incidents where government personnel rerouted users of forbidden sites to approved material. The first effort to restrict information flow was done by controlling the backbone of the Internet in combination with address blocking technologies. This was the so-called “Great Firewall of China” which attempted to block certain IP addresses using firewalls and proxy servers. As it happened before, some hackers took it as a challenge and designed software or techniques that allowed the users to bypass these. As the government realized that they started to emphasize automatic monitoring and surveillance to prevent individuals from bypassing such regulations. This was called the “Golden Shield Project”, one of many “Golden Projects”. The Golden Projects are telecommunication and information infrastructure modernization initiatives. It aims to increase security forces’ surveillance and access to communication and their control of information in China. These projects are also supported by their own software and hardware creation such as an operating system and CPUs. Effective automation communication monitoring software is crucial for the Golden Shield to succeed. The Ministry of Public Safety ordered cyber cafes to install software like “Filter King” or “Mei Ping” which are remote access management and monitoring tools.

Sex and pornography

The Chinese government has been denouncing sex and pornography culture and actively establishes "sex education" for teenagers and high school students in order to prevent them from developing an interest in this culture. This type of content is completely banned in the country and is heavily monitored. Ms. Liu, a successful novelist was sentenced to 10 years of prison for including explicit homoerotic content in her work. The charge against her was “making and selling obscene material for profit”. In early 2009 seven ministries and government departments launched a campaign to crack down vulgar content on the Internet. All of these authorities have a key role in the Information Office of the State Council (SCIO) which is tasked to oversee and regulate the Internet. The Chinese authorities stressed that the sole purpose of the campaign was to provide a clean and healthy environment for minors. At the launch of the campaign, an SCIO official released a statement about what constitutes as vulgar content.

  • information that promotes bloodshed, violence, or murder or consists of malicious verbal abuse, or insulting or defamatory remarks.
  • information that seduces adolescents and interferes with their studies, including:
    • showing of private body parts or sexual conduct whether explicitly or implicitly.
    • pictures, audiovisuals, cartoons, or writings with a sexual appeal or portraying sexual abuses.
    • illegal advertisements on sex tools or venereal disease treatment.
    • information on sex trade or causal sex.
    • information that intrudes into others’ privacy including:
      • up-shirt filming and pictures that expose private body parts.
      • the use of the Internet to publicize maliciously private information of other individuals.
    • information that is against traditional marriage and family values, including extra-marital affairs, one-night-stands, and partner-swapping.

The campaign spokesman vowed to take tough actions against websites persisting in carrying vulgar content by naming and shaming them and punishing or even shutting some of them down. In just about two weeks 1200 websites were shut down and 3.2 million items were deleted.

Video cameras

China already has the world’s largest surveillance network; it deploys over half of all surveillance cameras in use around the world. From 2010 to 2019, government procurement orders for equipment like facial recognition cameras and maintenance services related to surveillance increased nearly 1,900%. In 2019 alone, the report found, nearly one-third of all Chinese counties purchased surveillance-related equipment. ChinaFile, which operates as a nonprofit organization and works with a network of China-focused analysts and researchers, published the stand-alone State of Surveillance report after reviewing 76,000 publicly available government procurement orders of surveillance technologies from 2004 to May 2020. Mass surveillance in lower-profile cities and territories reflects the 2018 launch of China's “Project Sharp Eyes”, an ambitious attempt to equip 100% of Chinese public spaces, street corners, parks, train stations, with video-monitoring capabilities and amass the data into one central platform. China's government says the project is aimed at improving public safety and security. By 2020, the Chinese government expects to integrate private and public cameras, leveraging the country's technological expertise in facial recognition technology to build a nationwide surveillance network.

Other technologies

Facial recognition technology has technological and systematic limitations. For example, a supervisor at an AI firm that provides research support for this technology has stated that the system of activity profile can only look for a maximum of a thousand people in one search. Additionally, the system cannot work continuously for long periods of time, requiring reactivation in cases of extreme need. This technology is integrated with others, such as big data and AI, to build national surveillance and data-sharing platforms. The smart system is equipped with facial recognition technology to record jaywalkers and non-motor vehicles that break traffic rules. Robot police have been installed in public places such as train stations, museums, and tourist attractions. The robots were developed using big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and laser-based navigation. The road patrol robot can identify drivers and take photos of drivers' illegal behavior through its automatic navigation system. The advice traffic robot works in vehicle management stations and is capable of answering questions, guiding residents to counters and automatically reporting security risks and suspects to police. The accident warning robot can remind passing vehicles when police are dealing with traffic accidents. During 2019’s Spring Festival travel rush, police in many cities adopted facial recognition and robots to check tickets, search for missing people and provide passengers with safety instructions.

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