COVID-19 victims included the expected launch of the Chinese social credit system in 2020.
In development for years and already in use in several Chinese cities, the social credit system is a way for the government to use cell phone capabilities to monitor, track, observe and ultimately judge Chinese citizens as they move through daily life. The system uses both carrots and sticks to reward and punish behavior. Blood donation or other community activities could evaluate a carrot, but misconduct could prevent the offender from traveling on high-speed trains or planes or engaging in e-commerce.
Thanks to restrictive Internet policies in China, most of the functions of Chinese society can be performed on some apps, including the ubiquitous WeChat, and all of this is detectable by the government.
However, COVID-19 forced the government to press the pause button. According to reports, the government had to assure individuals and businesses that tax defaults or other things that would have normally dented their credit would not be held against them while the pandemic raged.
However, observers of China’s rapid rise are intrigued by the system and wonder if it would fly to the United States
Probably some parts already exist, in particular the credit rating system, which uses data stored on computers to assign consumers a credit score regardless of whether they have requested it.
In addition, sales platforms such as eBay require a positive or neutral net score; social media platforms may close posters for offensive behavior; and ride-share services can exclude cyclists with low ratings.
In a society where users already use social media regularly to shame others for offending behavior, what could possibly go wrong?
Many, according to Jay Stanley, senior political analyst for the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The concept of getting credit scores and applying it to other areas of life is disturbing,” he says.
Experts who spoke to the ABA Journal agree that there would be huge constitutional obstacles to any centralized credit rating system.
Stanley stresses the constitutional protections in the fifth amendment for due process and the protections of the fourth amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.
However, Dean Cheng, a researcher at the Center for Asian Studies at the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, argues that such a system would run counter to the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Washington-based Washington Electronic Information Center attorney Ben Winters calls a potential US social credit system a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist” and agrees with Cheng and Stanley that the constitution would rule out that centralized system.
Furthermore, there are cultural reasons why such a system could fly to China but not here.
“Since the Chinese have been under a dictatorship for 70 years, they have very few expectations of privacy,” emphasizes Cheng.
Meanwhile, Winters adds: “In China, the cameras show if you are walking in jaywalking and, with 100% of the law enforcement agencies, you could say that efficiencies will be achieved in the law enforcement agencies. But in America, with constitutional rights and civil rights laws, there are protections against that kind of thing. ”
But what about a system driven by private companies and industries?
Cheng doubts that it is in the commercial interest of any business to undertake the project. And if such a system arises, participation in the platforms that support it is optional.
“I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account because I chose not to,” he says. “I have never bought or sold anything on eBay either. You can choose to participate or not. “
However, Stanley disagrees, arguing that the waiver in order to maintain privacy becomes less significant over time. “Try living a normal life without a credit card,” he says.
This article first appeared in the August / September 2020 issue of ABA Journal under the title “What is your score? Some US companies already require consumers to maintain a certain social credit score, but a government-sponsored system is unlikely.”