Train station in China

Chinese authorities plan to use the country's mysterious "social credit" database to ban people guilty of past unruly behavior from purchasing plane and train tickets for up to a year.

The ban is set to come into effect on May 1, this year, according to two announcements made on the National Development and Reform Commission's website [1, 2].

People who were caught smoking in trains or airplanes, were caught without a ticket, caused a ruckus in airports or train stations, argued or fought with staff, resold tickets, sold fake tickets, or used forged documents to buy tickets —and more— will be automatically be added to a blocklist.

But this blocklist will also include citizens who failed to pay taxes, failed to abide with court rulings, and people with debts to the government or private entities.

China's ever-growing "social credit" system

This travel blocklist is part of China's growing "social credit" program that was first announced in 2012 under the name of Sesame Credit (now Social Credit System), developed under the tutelage of the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba.

This "social credit" database works by computing a "citizen score" for each Chinese person from 350 to 950 based on their activities, purchases, and online activity.

Authorities designed the system to collect data on a person's entire personal life and reward state-obedient users and penalize dissidents.

The system's entire mantra is "make trustworthy people benefit everywhere, and untrustworthy people restricted everywhere." The government hopes that citizens will feel the need and pressure to behave like "trustworthy" citizens if they ever hope to live a comfortable lifestyle.

As described in this 2015 YouTube video (embedded below), a low social credit score is meant to isolate unruly citizens from the rest of the population and deny them access to state services and benefits via travel bans, increased prices for day-to-day products, higher bank interests, and others.

"Social credit" system was quietly rolled out in 2016

According to the Human Rights Watch organization, the system has been silently rolled out since 2016. Activists have documented several cases where Chinese have been denied access to plane and train tickets in the past.

In previous cases recorded by the human rights organizations, citizens were denied access to plane tickets because they failed to follow a court ruling. Now the system appears to include a wealth of additional rules that may land a user on the travel ban list, suggesting China is slowly building its social credit database to include more and more sources of unruly behavior.

China officials said they hope to have a fully functional social credit system by 2020. Some private companies have also embraced the system. In one case, a bicycle renting business announced it would deny service to people with a low social credit score.

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