China Banned 23 Million People From Traveling Last Year for Poor ‘Social Credit’ Scores

February 22, 2019, 2:34 PM UTC

Millions of people in China last year were barred from traveling and even getting a better job because of their failure to pay fines, among other minor offenses.

China’s National Public Credit Information Center on Friday released a report that said it stopped 17.5 million people from buying airplane tickets and 5.5 million from hopping on a train in 2018 because they had low “social credit” scores. Another 290,000 people were stopped from getting a high-paying senior management job and 128 people couldn’t leave the country because they hadn’t yet paid taxes, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the report.

Since 2014, China has been testing out a social credit system that takes points away from people for minor offenses. So, if people don’t pay fines on time, fail to pay their taxes, or even engage in false advertising, their social credit scores could drop. The Chinese government has called the social credit system an opportunity for its country to run more effectively and reduce poor behavior. The U.S. and its allies, however, have said that it infringes upon people’s rights and gives the government too much control.

Chinese citizens living under the system have little leverage in improving their social credit scores without paying their fines. In addition to restricting travel and hurting job prospects, the Chinese government also uses its social credit system to limit access to education.

For now, social credit systems are still being tested across the country. A national social credit system that covers every single citizen has yet to roll out. But some China-watchers believe it’s only a matter of time until that happens.

According to the AP, state media coverage in China touted the report’s findings. The outlets also parroted the program’s slogan: “once you lose trust, you will face restrictions everywhere.”