The Record (New Jersey)
September 19, 2018
Not everyone missed it. But I did.
It was the spring 2018 news story about how China has instituted a Social Credit Policy for its 1.4 billion people and the domestic and international companies that do business with China.
Under the policy, relying on ever-more comprehensive data mining, with the growing and widespread placement of government cameras and other recording equipment throughout the internet and China itself, Chinese leaders will soon be able to see a person’s every public step and facial expression, hear all their public utterances and examine everything they have ever entered into a computer.
If you were always concerned, as I was, that George Orwell’s 1984 totalitarian state might one day come into existence, with the government able to know your mind, watch everything you do, have constant access to what you read, see and hear– and thus manipulate your understanding of the world around you and punish you for slights they deem actionable–your worst nightmare has just appeared in China.
It is not simply jaywalking, running a red light or littering that is being noted and disciplined under this new policy. If the Chinese authorities consider that you have said anything about the government that they find offensive or disrespectful, or if you have not been effusive enough in your praise of the present regime, you can also suffer punishment.
The most recently-revealed treatment of such transgressors includes banning them from traveling on a plane or a bus, denying their children entry into selected schools, slowing their internet speed, barring them from certain jobs, prohibiting them from buying real estate, and denying them entry into desirable hotels and restaurants, just to name a few.
As a parent you can even be acted upon if an “offense” is committed by one of your children. For example, if your son or daughter is spending too much time playing online video games, thus demonstrating your “bad parenting,” you can be punished for those “offenses,” as well.
The reverse is also true: If you are deemed loyal enough to the regime, and have otherwise not offended it, you can receive discounted food prices, energy expenses, rent, banking interest rates, etc.
Of course, the Chinese say that this new policy will result in a more orderly, polite and peaceful society. They justify these actions stating that a centralized government should always be allowed to use a citizens’ public, private and personal information to punish each citizen who does not comply with the state’s rulers’ chosen social edicts.
But we are not talking about laws punishing murder, stealing, fraud, incitement of violence, or committing acts of harm to adults or children. Those kinds of laws, under an implied social contract to maintain order and civility in society, are acceptable to all reasonable people.
China’s policy goes well beyond that. It is about the use of invasive, ever-present government spying on its citizens to reward those it likes, and punish those it doesn’t, such as political dissidents and those not showing sufficient support.
Everyone understands the inherent likelihood that this abuse of government power will be used primarily for regime survival and dominance, and lead to further government corruption.
But, in the words of Samantha Hoffman of the Australian Security Policy Institute, “it will [also] affect international businesses and overseas Chinese communities and has the potential to interfere directly in the sovereignty of other nations.”
As Michael Grothaus has said, “China’s social credit system will begin expanding past China’s borders to monitor Chinese citizens wherever they are globally….[Already] the threat of a negative social credit ranking recently pressured international airlines based in the U.S. and Australia to remove Taiwan on their international websites. It is feared that as China continues to roll out its social credit rating to businesses, those companies will feel they have no choice but to adhere to the Chinese Communist Party’s ideologies and worldview if they want to keep operating in the country.”
Maybe the Chinese government or the Chinese people will end this totalitarian policy that is, quite horribly, redefining what it means to be a free person. Or maybe China’s Social Credit System will stay the same or become even more nightmarish. But the rest of the world cannot wait to find out. We must take action now.
Ms. Hoffman recommends the following: controlling the export of Western technologies useful to the Chinese Social Credit Policy; reviewing Western university and research partnerships with China to avoid facilitating or enhancing the policy; strengthening domestic resilience to counter foreign interference; fortifying data protection by governments and the private sector; enacting new legislation to make this a human rights issue; supporting companies threatened by China’s social credit system; and protecting overseas Chinese communities from being affected by China’s efforts to expand its social credit policy to other countries.
We hope that the Congress and the President are aware of these developments and are acting upon the very real and horrifying, freedom-stealing impacts of China’s Social Credit Policy and the dangerous example it sets for other authoritarian rulers.
Needless to say, every American and every person on the planet who loves personal freedom must pay attention to this matter.
Steven R. Rothman of Englewood, a Democrat, is the former U.S. Congressman who represented New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District from 1997 to 2013.