China’s new tool for control

A disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday on China’s latest innovation in social control:

Hangzhou’s local government is piloting a “social credit” system the Communist Party has said it wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, a digital reboot of the methods of social control the regime uses to avert threats to its legitimacy.

More than three dozen local governments across China are beginning to compile digital records of social and financial behavior to rate creditworthiness. A person can incur black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules. The effort echoes the dang’an, a system of dossiers the Communist party keeps on urban workers’ behavior.

In time, Beijing expects to draw on bigger, combined data pools, including a person’s internet activity, according to interviews with some architects of the system and a review of government documents. Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which would then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels.

The endeavor reinforces President Xi Jinping’s campaign to tighten his grip on the country and dictate morality at a time of economic uncertainty that threatens to undermine the party. Mr. Xi in October called for innovation in “social governance” that would “heighten the capacity to forecast and prevent all manner of risks.”

The national social-credit system’s aim, according to a slogan repeated in planning documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Thus far, the pilot data-collecting systems aren’t yet tied together into what Beijing envisions as a sweeping system, which would assign each citizen a rating. It isn’t clear that Ms. Chen’s ticket infraction made it into any central system, although the notice warned that fare-dodgers risked being marked down starting Jan. 1; a station agent said only repeat offenders are reported.

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