The world’s most advanced surveillance state
Will our governments soon know everything about us? In China, facial recognition is driving the government’s social credit system to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.4 billion citizens.
Imagine if the government knew everything about you. Every time you went to the shops. What you bought. What you are spending your money on. Whether you are a jaywalker. Which friends you are meeting. Even what you are doing in the bathroom.
And if it knew this not just about you, but about every single person in your country.
Astonishing as it may seem this is exactly what is under way in China. It is happening rapidly, silently and with very little attention from Western media.
Travellers to the People’s Republic of China in recent months have reported the huge number of tiny cameras sprouting on lamp posts, by cash tills, all over trains and buses, and just about everywhere you go.
And now the Chinese government has admitted the ultimate aim: to create “a hugely ambitious new government program called the ‘social credit system’ [that] aims to compile unprecedented data sets, including everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories, for all Chinese citizens,” according to Rene Chun, a writer for the respected American magazine, The Atlantic.
The data will be used to assign everyone “a numerical score, to which points might be added for good behaviour like winning a community award, and deducted for bad actions like failure to pay a traffic fine. The goal of the program, as stated in government documents, is to ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step’”.
“It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity.” This is the sunny language the government is using to pitch it.
Is it so very different in the West?
It is already happening, many believe. Especially in the UK. There are over six million surveillance cameras (and growing every year) in Britain. The government’s own CCTV watchdog has already publicly warned that Britain could be “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” where people have no idea just how much is secretly known about them.
This is totally different from what is happening in China, others say. Western governments may hold massive amounts of data about their citizens but in a democracy they hold the information on trust to keep people safe from crime, terrorism and disorder. If it was ever used to start interfering in our privacy, the government would simply be thrown out in the next election. That is the beauty of democracy. And that is what China will never have.
- Are CCTV cameras in public places an invasion of your privacy?
- Could a social credit system have any positive effects?
- Think about what you have done recently. Travel? Shopping? Make a list of what you suspect the government knows about your activities this week.
- Come up with your own system that ranks citizens. Which metrics would you use, and which factors would have the most importance?
Some People Say...
“Once you’ve lost your privacy, you realise you’ve lost an extremely valuable thing.”Billy Graham
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The Chinese government has given a licence to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores and it will pick the best one to complete the project by 2020.
- What do we not know?
- We do not really know how Chinese people are reacting. For all our Western shock at such an intrusive system there is very little protest coming out of China. Is this because in a culture where collective behaviour is more highly prized that individuality, an all-knowing state is a comfort rather than offensive?
- Internet-search histories
- Google has an option that allows you to download all of the data that it has stored about you. A web developer from Ireland named Dylan Curran requested his data and received a 5.5 gigabyte file. This is equivalent to roughly three million Word documents. See the last link in Become An Expert.
- To take a single step
- In February last year, the China’s Supreme People’s Court announced that over the past four years, 6.15 million people had been banned from taking flights, and another 1.65 million cannot take trains.
- Sunny language
- The statement added: “It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”