November 20, 2018 / 6:26 AM / 25 days ago

Corrected: Beijing pioneering citizens' 'points' system critics brand 'Orwellian'

(Corrects year to 2020 from 2021 in first, third paragraphs)

A security camera overlooks Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China March 6, 2018. EUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing’s municipal government will assign citizens and firms “personal trustworthiness points” by 2020, state media reported on Tuesday, pioneering China’s controversial plan for a “social credit” system to monitor citizens and businesses.

The system’s rollout has attracted international headlines, sparking comparisons to George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, with critics saying it could massively heighten the Chinese Communist Party’s already strict control over society.

In a roadmap plan released in 2014, China said it would by 2020 create a “social credit system” to reward or punish individuals and corporations using technology to record various measures of financial credit, personal behaviour and corporate misdeeds.

But it had not made any mention of using points, as proposed by Beijing’s municipal government in a new plan released on Monday to improve the city’s business environment.

Lists of data, actions and measures will by used to create a trial system of “personal trustworthiness points” for residents and companies in the capital. The term used can also be translated as “creditworthiness” or “integrity”.

The plan did not include details of how the point system would work.

But, it said, information from the system could impact market access, public services, travel, employment and the ability to start businesses, with trustworthy individuals being provided a “green channel” and those who are blacklisted being “unable to move a step”.

“This is an important novel approach by Beijing to assess individuals’ credit and tie it to their whole life,” an unnamed official from the municipal state planner said, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The plan should serve as an example to the rest of the nation for how to improve the behaviour of individuals and businesses, Xinhua said.

A second system will also be set up to assess the trustworthiness of government officials and departments by measuring whether contracts and promises are honoured, the results of which will be included in performance assessments.

The social credit system, which is being built on the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted”, will encourage government bodies to share more information about individual and business misdeeds in order to coordinate punishments and rewards.

Some experts say that the system remains nascent and could help tackle social problems like fraud or food security, as well as noting that punishments are mostly restricted to industry specific blacklists rather than a holistic score.

A system for penalising individuals blacklisted for such offences as failing to pay court-mandated fines was extended in March. The penalties include banning offenders from making luxury purchases, such as tickets for flights or high-speed rail, for up to a year.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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