The Coming Digital Totalitarian State

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Big brother is watching you
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The extent to which the Chinese Communist Party is willing to go in order to control the Chinese people is astounding. In a remarkable article on Gatestone Institute’s website, Gordon G. Chang, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute, details what the Communist regime is planning for China.

By 2020 Chinese authorities hope to have about 626 million surveillance cameras functioning throughout the country with one of their purposes being to “feed information into a national ‘social credit system.’” This should be operative in two years. It “will assign to every person in China a constantly updated score based on observed behaviors. For example, an instance of jaywalking, caught by one of those cameras, will result in a reduction in score.” However, more is in view than jaywalking. The regime wants conformity to its political demands.

Experimental social credit scoring systems have already been operating in more than three dozen locations in China. In Rongcheng in Shandong province “each resident starts with 1,000 points, and, based upon their changing score, are ranked from A+++ to D. The system has affected behaviour: incredibly for China, drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.” Citizens have apparently embraced the social credit system.

Chang notes that “as technology advances and data banks are added, the small experimental programs and the national lists will eventually be merged into one countrywide system.” The process has already started with the government rolling out its “Integrated Joint Operations Platform, which aggregates data from various sources such as cameras, identification checks, and ‘wifi sniffers.’” The purpose is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Indeed, as a result of this growing surveillance of its citizens, since April 2018, the authorities have “blocked individuals from taking 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million highspeed rail trips.” Why? Because they had a low social credit rating.

But such travel restrictions are just the beginning. The punishments handed out for citizens not complying with Communist expectations can include being unable to buy property or not allowing your child to go to a private school. “Discredited people deserve legal consequences.” The totalitarian government can designate any punishment it pleases to force the population to conform to tis expectations. A hard-line approach can be expected so that people may not even get a second chance to redeem themselves. “President Xi Jinping, the final and perhaps only arbiter in China, has made it clear how he feels about the availability of second chances. ‘Once untrustworthy, always restricted’” [in terms of one’s freedoms and privileges].

The arm of the Chinese Communist Party is long and powerful. No other Chinese administration has ever kept such meticulous records of its citizens as the current dictatorship and “computing power and artificial intelligence are now giving China’s officials extraordinary capabilities.” Indeed, “there is no question that technology empowers China’s one-party state to repress people effectively.”

The Chinese Big Brother wants absolute control over society and uses digital surveillance to monitor the behavior of its citizens. This digital totalitarianism does not bode well for Christians and it has the potential of increased oppression, effectively making them second-class citizens if their social credit scores are low. That would probably happen if church attendance, even in government approved “churches”, is added to your digital profile. After all, in an atheistic society there is no need to pay ultimate honor to anyone besides your benign earthly ruler who demands total obedience as lord of your life in return for providing you with the necessities of life.

Whether the Chinese government will be successful in forcing its will on virtually every aspect of Chinese life remains to be seen, but it is clear that confessing Christ as ultimate Lord of life could come at a significantly increased cost.

by Cornelis Van Dam (Professor emeritus of the Old Testament at Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary. Article also published in Clarion, 21 October 2018)