The technological breakthrough of the 21st century resulted in the rethinking of individual privacy concepts and surveillance ethics. Governments and companies all over the world are now able to gather, store, and analyze the personal data of millions of people. It is evident that these institutions substantially benefit from access to private information. However, the most urgent issue is whether human society gains from this system. As such, surveillance is a “value-neutral activity” because it can be used for both good and evil (Macnish par. 2). Therefore, some real examples of mass surveillance are to be examined and evaluated. This paper aims to study the experience of China’s Social Credit System and assess its practices using the utilitarian approach. In addition, the paper includes its author’s personal opinion on the topic.
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Overview of China’s Social Credit System
The Chinese government announced the launch of the Social Credit System (SCR) in 2014. The implementation of the program has not finished yet, but some of the results can be already seen and measured. The idea behind this initiative was to create a system that would rate all Chinese citizens based on their deeds, behavior, and lifestyle. The actual outcome of this program is a unique Citizen Score that reflects the credibility of a person. The Score is calculated based on how an individual spends time and money, which people interact with, and more (Botsman par. 2). As a result, a person’s rate of reliability is available to the government and all other citizens of China. People with low Scores may be restricted from some public goods and avoided by other members of society.
Evaluating China’s Social Credit System
The main question which China’s Social Credit System raises is whether the government has the right to break the privacy of citizens, collect their data, and provide access to it for all people. The answer to this question heavily depends on the approach that one uses. Suppose, one has decided to assess China’s SCR from the utilitarian perspective. It is obvious that the system can detect individuals who show signs of delinquent behavior. For instance, no one wants to engage with people who do not pay debts or taxes. Furthermore, decent citizens would be happy to avoid hazardous drivers. SCR allows revealing undesirable and harmful features of people. The Utilitarian approach does not ask if it is ethical to collect people’s personal information but rather shows that society can benefit from it.
Personal Opinion of the Author
The position of the author on the current topic, however, goes beyond basic utilitarian ideas. Although it seems that the principles of the Fourth Amendment are, in a sense, no longer valid, privacy still needs to be protected. People of the modern era let the technologies into their lives and changed the very concept of privacy (Van den Hoeven et al. par. 49). It is reasonable to ask why the government is not permitted to collect citizens’ data when millions of people show most of their private information on social networks. If people do not seek privacy, then it might seem that the government should not protect it. Nevertheless, this assumption is wrong since only people can decide which information they want to share. Freedom is one of the fundamental values of Western civilization, and thus, the government needs to be on guard, even if people try to ruin personal privacy themselves.
In the context of China, the issue of surveillance and personal privacy sounds slightly different because freedom has never been the primary value of their society. However, if some universal human values exist, then the practices of the Chinese government should be declared unacceptable. Moreover, the excessive use of technologies in relation to humans may lead to catastrophic consequences. It is possible to assume that someday the government would be able to change the behavior of people with the use of technologies (Van den Hoeven et al. par. 48) Therefore, it is crucial to know where the border between the private and the public is.
This paper attempted to show that countries in no way should adopt the Chinese Social Credit System. It may seem from the utilitarian perspective that this initiative can be beneficial for society. The in-depth examination, however, reveals that the program of the Chinese government undermines basic human values and can lead to disastrous consequences. In the world of constant technological progress, where people themselves neglect personal privacy, it is the government that needs to protect them from the overuse of technologies.
Botsman, Rachel. “Big Data Meets Big Brother as China Moves to Rate its Citizens.” Wire. 2017, Web.
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Macnish, Kevin. “Surveillance Ethics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Web.
Van den Hoeven, Jeroen, et al. “Privacy and Information Technologies.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Stanford University, 2018, Web.