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China turns to tech to monitor, shame and rate citizens

The government is using surveillance cameras, facial recognition and smart glasses to score people on social behaviour, which can lead to punishment.

By 2020, China plans to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on how they behave. To create those scores, which could affect whether someone is allowed to fly or own property, China is using facial recognition, artificial intelligence, smart glasses and other technologies to monitor, rate and sometimes shame its citizens.

China's plan is to give each citizen a social credit score, which goes far beyond the traditional credit score based on finances. The score can fluctuate based on a range of behaviours, like whether you jaywalk or buy Chinese-made goods or buy too many video games. If your score gets too low, you can be banned from buying a plane ticket, renting a house, accessing high-speed internet or getting a loan.

Sensetime, one of China's most successful artificial intelligence companies, has created smart cameras for the government that can help catch criminals but also track average citizens. As people, bikes, cars and buses pass in front of the cameras, identifiers pop up.

"It can recognize more than 4,000 vehicles," CEO Xu Li explains. "We can tell whether it is an adult, a child, male or female."

With China's millions of surveillance cameras, the government can record jaywalkers at city intersections, zero in on their faces and then shame them on public video screens.

Police in Beijing have been seen wearing glasses that resemble Google Glass and can recognize faces linked to the government's national database.

The fear is that the government will use this social credit scoring system to punish people who aren't sufficiently loyal to the Communist party. Trying to clear your name or fight your score is nearly impossible, since there is no real due process.


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