The citizen penalty points cards, a reality in China

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The Chinese government is developing a ‘social credit’ system that facilitates the rating of citizens according to their behaviour and level of trustworthiness, offering rewards or imposing penalties depending on their behaviour. This programme, which is presented as a mechanism to guarantee national security and social stability, is expected to be completely operational in 2020.

Nevertheless, the first touches are already starting to be applied. Among them is the prohibition to buy plane or train tickets applicable to people who have lost points for having smoked in carriages, having used expired tickets, or having spread fake news, especially if these are related to terrorist attacks or airport security.

Other actions that could lead to a loss of points are the publication of online political posts without permission, contradicting the government’s official narrative, committing driving offences or spending too much time playing video games. Conversely, other types of behaviour like participating in charities or giving blood help to increase ratings and climb positions.

A position that will determine fundamental aspects such as the possibility of being accepted in certain schools (for the person in question or his or her children), sign into hotels, hold public positions or rent an apartment. It will be more difficult for people with a ‘citizen rating’ to have access to these, just as it will be more complicated to obtain visas to travel abroad. On the other hand, those who have a high rating will benefit from discounts on energy bills, faster access to Internet or better conditions when applying for a bank loan.

The exact methodology used to determine these ratings is kept secret, but it is thought that it will be based on artificial intelligence and big data, which will help to build profiles of all citizens based on the types of purchases they make, financial transactions, personal and professional contacts, the use of social networks or interactions with official organisms. Although the Chinese authorities uphold the idea that this system will enable them to control the level of civility and reduce the crime rate, thereby improving public security, a significant number of organisations like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International have warned of how this endangers rights and civil liberties, especially with regard to the right to privacy, data protection and freedom of expression. An especially worrying situation if we bear in mind that the level of Internet freedom in China, according to Freedom House, is the worst on the planet.

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