China has blocked millions of travelers from purchasing train or plane tickets as part of the Communist country's controversial "social credit" system, which has drawn the ire of privacy advocates who fear the surveillance-based system could lead to dystopian outcomes.
The Guardian reports that Chinese courts banned travelers from buying flights 17.5 million times by the end of last year, and that citizens put on blacklists for so-called social credit offenses were prevented from purchasing train tickets 5.5 million times. The report said: "Once discredited, limited everywhere."
The social credit system, which is still being built and now exists more as a patchwork of local and regional systems, purports to incentivize trustworthy behavior through various penalties when Chinese citizens commit a range of offenses, including not paying taxes, jaywalking, smoking on a train, walking their dogs without a leash or taking drugs.
Although a wide range of countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., already use data to judge a person's creditworthiness when it comes to applying for a mortgage or a credit card, the Chinese system aims to expand these practices to all areas of life.
Experts fear the system will lead to a crackdown on anyone who challenges China's government.
For instance, journalist Liu Hu, who writes about censorship and corruption in China, has been arrested and fined because of his work. According to Wired, Liu found that his name was placed on a list of "dishonest persons" who is "not qualified" to buy a plane ticket, buy property or take out a loan.
"There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to," he told The Globe and Mail. "What's really scary is there's nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere."
According to The Guardian, Chinese citizens can also be prevented from buying insurance, real estate or investment products if they run afoul of the credit system. The British news site also reports that 3.5 million people or companies paid taxes or debts they owed because of the credit system.
Experts have said that Western countries should not look to mimic the Chinese system.
"Often comparisons are drawn between private applications like Uber and its rating system for customers and drivers. While these private company systems are extremely problematic in my view, they are fundamentally different," Samantha Hoffman, a non-resident fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told Wired. "The People’s Republic of China is an authoritarian country, the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for gross human rights violations for decades... There is nothing any liberal democratic society should even think about copying in the social credit system."