Millions of Chinese citizens were banned from purchasing travel tickets in 2018, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of a government report.
Travelers were blocked from buying airline tickets 17.5 million times and barred 5.5 million times from buying train tickets, according to the National Public Credit Information Center. In an annual report, it said 128 people were blocked from leaving China due to unpaid taxes.
That’s up from only 6.15 million citizens being blocked from taking flights as of 2017, according to China’s supreme court.
The government rolled out the travel ban on people with low social credit scores last May. Citizens were banned from travel as consequence from their social credit scores.
The Chinese government started experimenting with their social credit system in 2014. As part of the system, the Chinese government employs a public blacklist to those who have been found guilty of crimes in court.
The government proposes that their social credit system helps regulate people’s behavior, and will improve order in a fast-changing society.
Companies on the blacklist can lose government contracts or access to bank loans or be barred from issuing bonds or importing goods.
Offenses penalized under “social credit” last year included false advertising or violating drug safety rules, the government information center said. Individuals were blocked 290,000 times from taking senior management jobs or acting as a company’s legal representative.
Since the launch of such “joint punishment,” the system has caused 3.5 million people to “voluntarily fulfill their legal obligations,” the Information Center said. It said that included 37 people who paid a total of 150 million yuan ($22 million) in overdue fines or confiscations.
President Xi Jingping’s government takes advantage of the technological advantage to micro-manage its citizens and businesses in its territory. The system uses technology ranging from data processing to genetic sequencing and facial recognition.
In China, government agencies and private companies are collecting enormous amounts of data about e.g. an individual’s finances, social media activities, credit history, health records, online purchases, tax payments, legal matters, and people you associate with in, addition to images gathered from China’s 200 million surveillance cameras and facial recognition software.
Data that indicates non-compliance with legally prescribed social and economic obligations and contractual commitments are flagged up and aggregated on a government-wide level to determine the trustworthiness of companies and individuals. Such a trustworthiness score can fluctuate based on actions—going up for good deeds such as donating to charity and can go down for negative actions such as getting a speeding ticket, according to a report.
Human rights activists say “social credit” is too rigid and might unfairly label people as untrustworthy without telling them they have lost status or how to restore it.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized it in October as “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life.”
China’s social credit system has been compared to Black Mirror, Big Brother and every other dystopian future sci-fi writers can think up.
China’s social credit system expands that idea to all aspects of life, judging citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. Caught jaywalking, don’t pay a court bill, play your music too loud on the train — you could lose certain rights, in this case, booking a flight or train ticket.
According to the government’s document, Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020), all of the social credit scores for its 1.4 billion citizens will be publicly available by 2020. There will be a searchable file of every Chinese citizen that represents all the data collected from public and private companies to track their social credit.
Mareike Ohlberg, research associate at the Mercator Institute for China Studies says that it’s not new for the Chinese to use, and abuse, of aggregated data for analysis of behaviour. “But if [the Chinese system] does come together as envisioned, it would still be something very unique,” she says. “It’s both unique and part of a global trend.”
The ruling party is yet to say how it will operate. Possible penalties include restrictions on travel, business and access to education. A slogan repeated in state media says, “Once you lose trust, you will face restrictions everywhere.”