China tests "social credit score" system to crack down on critics

China targets critics with "social credit sco... 03:40

China is testing a new "social credit score" system that would rank people based on their online behavior to crack down on anyone who strays from its ruling Communist Party, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

Just this week, a prominent human rights lawyer went on trial in China for social media posts that criticized the ruling party. The lawyer faces up to eight years in prison for his comments on China's equivalent of Twitter.

Just a few paragraphs on social media cost Zhang Aijia her job and even her home.

"I was shocked," said Aija, a former school counselor. "Our country is going backwards."

The post was an apparent jab at China's President Xi Jinping. Police showed up at her school to question her. Days later, she was fired and forced to leave her school housing.

"This is the 21st century," Aija said in Chinese. "So why does it feel like a society with an emperor? In other countries, people can criticize, even mock leaders."

But China watcher Ken DeWoskin was not shocked about China's new plan to rank citizens based on their online activity. The government's proposal would "evaluate the credit... and the online behavior of netizens."

"I think that it has a great deterrent effect and is intended for that purpose," DeWoskin said. "It's a way of compiling information all the way down to the individual level that can be rolled up into a score. That really talks about how well aligned you are to the agenda of the leaders."

Think of it like a credit score that combines everything from shopping habits to social media posts, and can be used by the ruling Communist Party.

"It's a continuation of what the Chinese used to do in what they call the dangan portfolio - the personal portfolio," DeWoskin said.

That portfolio was a sort of file that could affect everything from employment to health care options.

The new proposal advances that concept into the digital age in a country that does not have privacy laws the prevent mass data collection.

"The information compiled could affect your ability to go to a top university, it could affect your ability to get a really good job, it could even affect your ability to get a passport to travel abroad," DeWoskin said.

This "social credit score" wouldn't be rolled out for another few years, but it may already be having a chilling effect.

"This score system will probably further narrow the space for speech," Zhang said. "There won't be much that's fit to say in the end. It's pretty scary."

In fact, Zhang was so afraid to talk to CBS News that she scheduled an interview using several different cell phones and encrypted text messages.