Your bags are packed, your rooms are booked, you’re all set for your vacation; there’s just one problem, the government has canceled your tickets.
As early as 2014, China began conceptualizing a Social Credit System (SCS), sort of like a credit score for citizen behavior where behaviors deemed good for society are rewarded with privileges and bad behaviors result in a poor score and loss of privileges.
China has since been working to test its new method of population control and has been slowly conscripting citizens into the system.
Now, a new report acquired by the Associated Press, suggests millions of would-be travelers had their plans canceled as a result of the SCS in 2018.
According to the report obtained by the Associated Press, as many as 17.5 million ticket purchases were blocked last year for “social credit offenses” such as unpaid taxes or fines.
Other would-be travelers were barred from purchasing train tickets as many as 5.5 million times and according to an annual report from the National Public Credit Information Center, as many as 138 people were stopped from leaving the country.
The ruling party hopes to fully establish the system within the nation by 2020. Although it isn’t completely clear yet how the system will be maintained, what the SCS will penalize, and what penalties there may be for having “poor social credit”, offenses penalized last year included everything from false advertising to drug charges.
In addition to travel restrictions, companies ousted from the nation’s good graces can lose out on government contracts, bank loans, and be restricted from importing goods.
Employees can be prevented from representing companies or taking senior management roles, a penalty which was applied 290,000 times last year.
The SCS is just one part of the way President Xi Jinping’s government plans to use technology and data systems to monitor and control its citizens.
Part of a decade long ambition known as The Golden Shield Project, new surveillance technologies are being rolled out constantly and include things such as glasses with facial recognition capabilities for law enforcement, gait recognition software, and productivity monitoring programs so efficient employees are convinced employers can read their minds.
Despite the system being, as Vice President Mike Pence said, “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life,” it appears the system may be accomplishing what it was designed to.
Since being launched, the system has caused 3.5 million people to “voluntarily fulfill their legal obligations,” such as paying overdue fines, according to the National Public Credit Information Center.
This includes 37 people who paid a total of 150 million yuan (US$22 million) in overdue fines. Whether it works or not, such a system has deeply concerning implications for the classist division of Chinese society with little room for errors or mistakes.
As a slogan often repeated in Chinese state media suggests, “Once you lose trust, you will face restrictions everywhere.”