Imagine a world where an authoritarian government monitors everything you do, amasses huge amounts of data on almost every interaction you make, and awards you a single score that measures how “trustworthy” you are.
In this world, anything from defaulting on a loan to criticizing the ruling party, from running a red light to failing to care for your parents properly, could cause you to lose points.
And in this world, your score becomes the ultimate truth of who you are — determining whether you can borrow money, get your children into the best schools or travel abroad; whether you get a room in a fancy hotel, a seat in a top restaurant — or even just get a date.
This is not the dystopian superstate of Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report,” in which all-knowing police stop crime before it happens. But it could be China by 2020.
It is the scenario contained in China’s ambitious plans to develop a far-reaching social credit system, a plan that the Communist Party hopes will build a culture of “sincerity” and a “harmonious socialist society” where “keeping trust is glorious.”
A high-level policy document released in September listed the sanctions that could be imposed on any person or company deemed to have fallen short. The overriding principle: “If trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.”
A whole range of privileges would be denied, while people and companies breaking social trust would also be subject to expanded daily supervision and random inspections.
The ambition is to collect every scrap of information available online about China’s companies and citizens in a single place — and then assign each of them a score based on their political, commercial, social and legal “credit.”
The government hasn’t announced exactly how the plan will work — for example, how scores will be compiled and different qualities weighted against one another. But the idea is that good behavior will be rewarded and bad behavior punished, with the Communist Party acting as the ultimate judge.