The perils of a social credit system for democracy

Ross Boyd

Citizens with a high social credit score would be rewarded with the best travel, education and internet speeds.

The phrase ‘’better to say nothing than anything bad’’ is extremely misleading, yet, since the inception of Mao Zedong’s communist victory in China, this policy has effectively been used since 2014. It is being expanded further into the 21st century with the development of the social credit system by 2020 in China which gives a score to every citizen based off a rubric of loyalty and good behaviour and punishing those with low scores by restricting their freedoms in travel, education and fast internet speeds.

It should lead to a decrease in crime with the increased fear of punishments, yet a further censorship of individual liberty in order to be the perfect member of society should be looked at with fear in democracies, rather than awe in increasingly controlling states.

The usage of CCTV and cameras is especially terrifying. I visited China in 2014 and you know what you could and couldn’t say, but being watched was rarely a problem, although this was the case before Zi Jinping’s ideas were fully realised. However, in order to evaluate your performance as a citizen, cameras would be placed in every public space with the ability to track faces, clothes, car registrations and the similarities with wanted criminals. A video of this recently went viral on YouTube, yet people were dazed with awareness about how quick and effective it was, ignoring the scary truth how this could be soon daily life in the name of safety.

This wave of being more secure is fuelled by the recent media frenzy of terror attacks being closer than ever to our safe-haven of home. The simulated terror attack in DCU only a few weeks ago helped to escalate this realism.

To respond to this frenzy, governments in Europe have replaced slower, inefficient police forces with the use of CCTV and monitoring systems to allow a quicker response to crimes. While this may seem good, it’s had the opposite effect of increasing crimes as the lack of staff has led to few investigations and responsibility for crimes, with incarceration for only the most serious crimes, with even systems for tracking criminals failing frequently to stop repeat offenders.

A system that tries to stop crime by monitoring would not just be a failure for society as a whole, it could lead to a new wave of secret state politics and significantly less transparency than today. It could give rise to disobedient crimes and more activism and protests waking the populace as it did for the water charges and Jobstown six.

In Ireland, if the government had the power to deem if a citizen trustworthy, it would be a defeat for our country. I spoke with political candidates, who said simply by sending letters from TDs to doctors, this would give preference to constituents immediately despite endless waiting lists. Imagine this power if, simply by a letter, your enemy could be tarnished to have no control of their life and no way to have any public services bar money. This would be the life a social credit system could have in Ireland.

Ross Boyd

Image credit: Alison Clair