Vernuccio’s View: China Expands Tyranny, Exports Idea

China is adopting a concept that would oversee most facets of an individuals’ life, and use the information to decide a person’s worth.  That disturbingly totalitarian concept may be coming to the west.

The American Civil Liberties Unions’ Jay Stanley reports that “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, “authoritarianism, gamified.”

Media Hub describes the concept: “Welcome to China’s Social Credit System in which each citizen, by 2020, will earn a single number based on undisclosed algorithms that will tell everyone what kind of person they are. The numbers are then ranked against the rest of the population. For the Chinese government, this is an effort to control its 1.4 billion people and create a system of trustworthiness. What many might consider a Big Brother dystopia is in the early stages of a trial-run in China. If you’re a Chinese citizen, all of your online and public interactions, shopping patterns at favorite stores, Google searches, even how often you play video games are factored in. The numbers crunched out of all your daily habits will eventually tell you where you can work, the type of transportation you can take, whether you can buy a house and determine what schools your children can attend. What seems like a scene from Netflix’s “Black Mirror” might actually be nearer to America than people realize.”

TechDirt  describes how the process unfolds: “China’s plan to control the hearts, minds and internet connections of its citizens continues unimpeded. That’s the great thing about authoritarian regimes: rollout of mandatory programs is usually only a problem of logistics, not opposition…Everybody is measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card. While currently supposedly voluntary, the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020…the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like…This is where all the government’s moves towards greater control of the internet comes to fruition. To keep “score,” the government needs to tie IDs to online activity. Keeping the internet within the government’s walls makes it that much easier. But it’s not just online activity that will affect “citizen scores.” It’s almost every aspect of their lives. Also used to calculate scores is information about hobbies, lifestyle, and shopping. Buying certain goods will improve your score, while others (such as video games) will lower itChinese citizens who want to remain in the government’s good graces will need to balance “negative” purchases with offsetting positive purchases, most likely domestic electronics and appliances. As disturbing this is, the truly horrific aspect of the “citizen score” is that it can be influenced by friends and family members.”

The most disturbing news about all this for non-Chinese citizens is that the idea may be coming to the West.

The American Civil Liberties Union warns that “The United States is a much different place than China, and the chances that our government will explicitly launch this kind of a program any time in the near future is nil, but there are consistent gravitational pulls toward this kind of behavior on the part of many public and private U.S. bureaucracies, and a very real danger that many of the dynamics we see in the Chinese system will emerge here over time. On the government side, for example I have written about how the TSA’s airline passenger “whitelist” system could evolve in this direction. In the private sector, Frank Pasquale notes that elements of its judgment-and-reward system already exist in the U.S. private-sector credit score infrastructure.

 PJ Media reports on the legal/technological aspects:

Patents recently issued to Google provide a window into their development activities. While it’s no guarantee of a future product, it is a sure indication of what’s of interest to them. What we’ve given up in privacy to Google, Facebook, and others thus far is minuscule compared to what is coming if these companies get their way. These patents tell us that Google is developing smart-home products that are capable of eavesdropping on us throughout our home in order to learn more about us…So clearly they want to monitor us and report back what we are doing… But there’s even more.

Atlantic notes: “A second patent proposes a smart-home system that would help run the household, using sensors and cameras to restrict kids’ behavior. Parents could program a device to note if it overhears ‘foul language’ from children, scan internet usage for mature or objectionable content, or use ‘occupancy sensors’ to determine if certain areas of the house are accessed while they’re gone— for example, the liquor cabinet. The system could be set to ‘change a smart lighting system color to red and flash the lights’ as a warning to children or even power off lights and devices if they’re grounded…If you think our privacy is compromised now, just wait. Until there’s some legislation passed to protect our privacy, there’s no stopping companies such as Google and Facebook from learning everything about what we do and who we are and selling the information to advertisers, insurance companies, and eventually, any entity that will pay. After all, that’s their business model.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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