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People in China may be banned from taking trains if social media indicates ‘bad character’

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Social credit system relies on secret algorithms to distinguish ‘good’ and 'bad’ citizens, and punishments will include being prohibited from using some public transport or taking flights, ruling Communist Party states.

People in China, whose names have been added to a government list of supposed troublemakers, could be barred from travelling on trains from May this year under the principle of “once untrustworthy, always restricted” outlined by President’s Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party has announced.

Blacklisted travellers are likely to include individuals whose social media posts the ruling Communist Party has taken a dislike to, along with those found to have committed financial wrongdoing. Fare dodgers and those who have been in trouble over others misbehaviours on public transport - like lighting up on ‘no smoking’ trains - will also be penalised, Reuters reported. People’s freedom of movement could even be restricted if they spend too long playing video games or waste money on frivolous purchases.

China is understood to be working on developing an elaborate system of so-called ‘social credit’, maintained by algorithms, under which citizens will be scored based on perceived trustworthiness. As with private credit scores, a person’s social score can move up or down over time. However, China’s algorithms are understood to take account of privately-held morals rather than just financial factors, with the aim being to marginalise those the state deems ‘bad citizens’ and reward those regarded as ‘good citizens’.

Involvement in the scheme, to be completed by 2020, is apparently mandatory for all citizens residing in the People’s Republic of China.

The move dovetails with other examples of intense government interference in the lives of ordinary people, such as walling off parts of the internet and arresting vendors of virtual private network technology that can help web users circumvent web censorship. Chinese social networking giant Weibo Corp last year caved into government pressure to shut down swathes of accounts that had unsettled the rulers in Beijing.

Unlicensed television and film content, as well as videos longer than 15 minutes, have also been banned on Weibo’s platforms as part of the crackdown, and the Chinese Communist Party has suggested it may make ordinary citizens legally compelled to police online discussions and notify the authorities about certain types of statements deemed problematic by the authorities.

Dr Daria Kuss, a cyberpsychologist from Nottingham Trent University, told E&T earlier this year that such restrictions would have big implications for human rights. China is often targeted for criticism by campaigners against repressive state control of the media.

According to a translation by China expert Rogier Creemers, China’s official statement about its social credit system, announced on Friday, stated that a social credit system is an important component part of the socialist market economy system”.

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