The social credit system, or Orwell in China. Will it soon exist in our own country?
We hear it regularly spoken about: the social credit system that has been in place in China since 2014. If you haven't paid your fines, if you've run a red light or smoked in a train, 400 million cameras that track you, supported by visual recognition programs and surveillance software nestled in your smartphone, make it possible for you to be penalized by a drop in your "credit rating." And its consequences? In 2018, 17.5 million Chinese were refused when they wanted to purchase an airline ticket, and 5.5 million were not allowed to take the fast train. Digital totalitarianism is being installed in Peking. But it seems so distant from us. It was to defy the temptation of indifference that an "imaginary trial of social ranking" was held in Paris, last December 4th, organized by the association, "Les jurisnautes" and the judicial magazine, Dalloz IP / IT. This fictitious trial was a dramatization of an invented situation, but it was judged by real magistrates, prosecutors and attorneys.
Perhaps in 2028 in France, we will be fired from our jobs and socially excluded for offences, sometimes ludicrous, that were once veiled in secrecy. Who can say that within our democracies we will not also decide to use digital surveillance - which already exists in fact - to grade behavior? Now we find the idea revolting. But if it were explained to us that the social credit system would allow us to track down violent husbands, offenders, drivers, racists and polluters? It is not out of the question that a large part of the population would find it useful to rate people's daily movements, just as we now rate our chauffeurs or hotels (and are rated by them). Sometimes, at bottom, we prefer voluntary servitude to liberty.
Today, it is the Chinese dissidents that are alarmed to live in an Orwellian world. Maybe tomorrow it will be our turn to fight against the ultimate stage in digital surveillance. Dissidence is not necessarily somewhere else.
Translated from French to English by Sally Gordon-Mark