Saturday, July 27, 2019

[EJinisght] Why the China social credit system must be resisted

 On July 5, Guangdong province released a three-year action plan (2018-2020) in relation to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area project, in which it said it will incorporate the Social Credit System -- a national reputation system being developed by the Chinese government.

The announcement immediately prompted privacy concerns among citizens. Later, a top Hong Kong government official assured that China’s social credit system will not be implemented in Hong Kong.

Since Hong Kong is part of the Greater Bay Area, it is actually uncertain how such promise can be kept, and for how long, especially as the big-data system for monitoring and shaping business and citizens’ behavior would be fully implemented from next year on the mainland.

It is understandable that Hong Kong citizens have fears of their personal information, behavior and preferences being collected and secretly sent back to the Chinese government.

Now, why do Hongkongers oppose such social credit system? Unlike the traditional credit system for personal finance, China's new definition of credit system will serve as a means to regulate citizens' behavior through mass scoring and ranking.

According to the outline of the plan for development of China's Social Credit System, as early as in 2006, a trial system has been in place in which each Chinese citizen was given a social credit score measuring their sincerity, honesty, and integrity.

Chinese tech companies were obligated to help collect citizens’ banking transaction records, or various online interactions and behaviors.

By the end of last year, a unified platform called Credit China was set up, with Baidu providing the technical support, linking 44 central government agencies, 32 provincial systems, and private databases from 12 enterprises including Alibaba Group-affiliated Ant Financial's Sesame Credit and Tencent’s WeChat.

More than 13 million names have been collected and blacklisted, the authorities said.

Obvious misbehavior or misconduct that would result in social credit score deductions include violating court orders, not following traffic rules, having outstanding debts, defaulting tax payments or committing fraud, and spreading rumors online.

The score would be a major determinant for all, for instance, in deciding whether an individual would be permitted to travel overseas, receive promotion at work, buy or rent a flat, or given access to public schools for their children.

The system has been a useful tool for the Chinese government but has triggered concerns over human rights and free speech. In Suining county of Jiangsu province, an individual who surrounds, or pays unwelcome visits to the government departments, enterprises, or construction sites will see his social score deducted.

People will also have to be careful about their online interactions and what text messages they send over their mobile phones.

What's worse, the system lacks transparency in relation to scoring and ranking, and there is no channel for complaint.

An example would be Xu Xiaodong, a famous mixed martial arts fighter in China. This May it was rumored that the sportsman was ranked Grade D in the social credit system, and that the poor score saw him barred from using some public transport, from gaining access to hotels and golf courses, and also restricted from buying or renting property.

According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong residents have freedom of speech, of demonstration, and the right and freedom of religious belief. Now, if the China-type social credit system is put in place, it would not only infringe upon people's rights, it could also threaten the life and property of every citizen.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 16 2019

Translation by John Chui


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