China’s Mission to Build Better Citizens on the Blockchain

The People’s Republic of China has initiated some pretty questionable social policies over the years. When it’s not banning things like puns, hip-hop artists with tattoos, or fictitious depictions of time travel, it’s requiring individuals claiming to be reincarnated to apply for official approval by the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs.

For the most part, rules like this are hilarious to many of us in the West. But one of the PRC’s new cultural policies – the Social Credit System set to be launched in 2020 – is raising concern.

China’s Social Credit System

Back in 2014, the State Council of China published a plan for a social credit system that applied a national trust score to individual citizens. This score would tell you whether you were a good or a bad member of the public, the idea being that this data would help inspire better behavior. And while we’ve all gotten to a level of uncomfortable familiarity with exactly how much social media and tech companies are monitoring our online activities, assigning social credits based on what we buy, watch, listen to, or interact with online crosses privacy boundaries that most of us still value.

Technology has developed to a point where everything we do can be tracked, recorded, and analyzed. The Chinese Government proposes to use this ability to encourage pro-social behavior. According to the original policy statement announcing the policy, the PRC intends to use the Social Credit System to “forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious.” Further, the government claims that “It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

The End of Privacy in China?

Using blockchain technology, China’s Social Credit System could be built to function largely autonomously and permanently. It would create an immutable ledger of each citizen’s social credits – a permanent record of everything they’ve ever done in their communities, work environments, and families that is used to determine whether they are good or bad. Creepy? You betcha. China’s social scoring system is already up and running, and participation will become mandatory for every Chinese citizen in 2020 – which is just around the corner.

As OK as we’ve all become with targeted ads that just-so-happen to be selling you the exact brand of face cream you just liked on Facebook, but using this data as a way to assess our access to pubic rights and facilities is simply horrifying. It opens up a potential slippery slope where privacy rights are sacrificed in favor of the public good. While there has always been a tension between personal privacy and public welfare, lines have been drawn.

The Chinese may welcome the Social Credit System and similar social regulations made possible in the technological era. But absent a major upset at the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution prevents such policies to be imposed on American citizens. Regardless, however, we must all be vigilant against the creeping encroachment of civil rights that’s been made possible through modern developments in internet and blockchain technology.

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