China's behavior monitoring system bars some from travel, purchasing property

By 2020, China plans to give all its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score based on how they behave. Some with low scores are already being punished if they want to travel. Nearly 11 million Chinese are not allowed to fly and 4 million are barred from trains. Next week, the program will start expanding nationwide.

The government says it is trying to "purify" society by rewarding people who are trustworthy and punishing those who are not, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy. So like the credit scores most Americans have based on how they handle their finances, Chinese citizens are getting a social credit score based on everything from whether they pay their taxes on time to how they cross the street to what they post online.

When Liu Hu recently tried to book a flight, he was told he was banned from flying because he was on the list of untrustworthy people. Liu is a journalist who was ordered by a court to apologize for a series of tweets he wrote and was then told his apology was insincere.

"I can't buy property. My child can't go to a private school," Liu said. "You feel you're being controlled by the list all the time."

The list is now getting longer as every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score, a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It's believed that community service and buying Chinese-made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it. If a score gets too low, a person can be banned from buying plane and train tickets, real estate, cars and even high-speed internet.

"It's a good thing," one Chinese woman said. "There should be punishment for people who can't behave."

China's growing network of surveillance cameras makes all of this possible. The country already has an estimated 176 million cameras. It plans to have more than 600 million installed by 2020.

SenseTime has created smart cameras for the government that can help catch criminals but also track average citizens. CBS News

"It can recognize more than 4,000 vehicles," SenseTime CEO Xu Li said. SenseTime is one of China's most successful artificial intelligence companies. It has created smart cameras for the government that can help catch criminals but also track average citizens.

"This knows every person, every bike, every car, every bus?" Tracy asked him, watching a monitor.

"We can tell whether it is an adult, a child, male or female," Xu said.

In several big cities in China, including here in Shanghai, the government is even tracking jaywalkers. Cameras record them going through intersections, zero in on their face, and then publicly shame them on nearby video screens.

Ken DeWoskin, who has studied China's economic and political culture for more than three decades, said the way the new scoring system truly works is kept secret and could be easily abused by the government.

"How far into people's daily mundane activities does this go?" Tracy asked him.

"Well, I think that the government and the people running the plan would like it to go as deeply as possible… to determine how to allocate benefits and also how to impact and shape their behavior," DeWoskin said.

There are upsides if the Chinese government considers you "trustworthy." Those people can get discounts on energy bills, better interest rates at banks, and China's largest online dating site reportedly even boosts the profiles of people with good social credit scores.

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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