China’s domestic surveillance mechanisms have received significant criticism in light of its authoritative nature and the Orwellian tendencies of its methods. Its social credit system, which sits at the heart of such surveillance techniques, is a complex method implemented with an aim of monitoring and regulating the behaviour of its citizens and thereby punishing those who do not follow the dictates of the state structure.
The Chinese social credit system in essence performs its function by assigning each citizen a score determined by a range of factors, including their financial history, criminal record, social media activity, and general social behaviour in public. This score is then used to determine a person’s access to a range of services and privileges, such as loans, job opportunities, and travel visas. Those with high scores are granted preferential treatment, while those with low scores face significant restrictions and penalties. At the outset, these methods do not only limit individual freedoms but also takes a significant step beyond that by invading privacy of general citizens. The complex algorithmic system collects data on individuals without their consent and acquires sensitive personal information such as their political views and religious beliefs to target them for reductional purposes along the lines of the state and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
A significant worry in terms of the methods of the systems functioning is the vast network of surveillance tools used to monitor citizens for the scoring. The Chinese government has been understood to have installed millions of cameras equipped with facial recognition technology, which are used to track people’s movements and activities in public spaces. This data is then fed into a central database, which is used to generate a person’s social credit score on a range of parameters determined by the Party. In addition to cameras, the government has also developed tools that monitor social media activity, financial transactions, and other personal information.
The Credit System also fails in terms of its transparency and accountability as the algorithms utilised in the software are not available for public scrutiny and inculcates biased measures to degrade citizens who do not fit the state-preferred criteria. The lack of adequate data and redressal methods also prevent individuals prosecuted under severe scoring to seek relief and appeal against decisions of the biased system. Furthermore, the system also has
been found to discriminate against groups of people especially the ethnic minorities for having differing cultural beliefs. A prominent example of such Sinisization tactics is quite evident in the CCP’s hawkish approach towards both Xingang and Tibet regions.
These tactics are also complimented by the Chinese state’s efforts to create an environment of fear and mistrust amongst its own population. The algorithm and its rules and regulation encourage citizens in reporting on the behaviour of fellow citizens that may appear troublesome. This has also on many occasions led to a complete breakdown of the social trust that is very essential for a society to function. Such as a decline in civic engagement and resistance to engage in public discourse is an indication of how Orwellian tendencies can lead to a total collapse of social engagements in society. Moreover, in addition to these discrepancies, the implementation of the social credit system has also been problematic. For example, the system has been plagued by technical issues, such as errors in credit scores and difficulties in accessing credit reports and has made it difficult for individuals to understand and navigate the system leading to a failure of righteously scoring individuals. The credit system has also been criticized for its potential to stifle innovation and entrepreneurship by laying heavy emphasis on compliance and conformity, which in turn has discouraged individuals from taking risks and pursuing newer ideas. The understanding that a government could have such comprehensive control over its citizens has long been a source of concern for human rights advocates and civil liberties groups. The fact that China has not only invented such a daunting practice but has implemented it into their domestic population is a marker of how its global ambitions are shaped. The CCP has been known to use its vast surveillance apparatus to target and silence dissidents and other political opponents and its global ambitions too should be seen in light of similar intentions. With the social credit system, the government now has even more tools at its disposal to punish those who challenge its authority especially those on the margins of Chinese society such as the ethnic minorities. Thus, China’s social credit system is not only highly controversial but has also raised significant concerns about civil liberties, privacy, and the potential for abuse of power. The Social Credit System’s Orwellian nature is also all the more evident in its comprehensive surveillance apparatus and the potential for the CCP to use it to punish political opponents and dissenters.