The Transparent Self Under Big Data Profiling: Privacy and Chinese Legislation on the Social Credit System
Vol. 12, No. 2, The Journal of Comparative Law (2017) 356-378
University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017/011
25 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2017 Last revised: 6 Feb 2018
Date Written: June 26, 2017
China’s Social Credit System (SCS) has captured the imagination and power of big data technology. Launched at the national level in 2014, the system’s aim is to assess the trustworthiness of Chinese citizens in keeping their promises and complying with legal rules, moral norms, and professional and ethical standards. It is essentially a collaborative project between the authorities and the business sectors to rate both individuals and other entities. In certain contexts, each individual will be given a social credit score or rank. Despite the claimed good will to curb escalating dishonesty across societal sectors in China, the worry is that the totality of individuals’ lives will be captured, that citizens will be monitored and that the Orwellian state will become a reality. Individuals risk being reduced to transparent selves before the state in this uneven battle. They are uncertain about what contributes to their social credit scores, how those scores are combined with the state system, and how their data is interpreted and used. In short, the big data-driven SCS is confronting Chinese citizens with major challenges to their privacy and personal data, amongst other interests critical to them.
This article first maps out the background to the construction of China’s big data social laboratory and the SCS, and then summarises the legislative history and evolving concept of social credit. It stresses that apart from the conspicuous SCS policy document introduced by the Chinese central government, pilot legislation has already been implemented at the local levels to regulate the collection and processing of social credit data. The third part critically reviews such local legislation (which often uses the term ‘public credit information’) with reference to personal data protection principles. It also highlights the restrictions on the data subjects’ rights that are placed by the uncoordinated legal framework of personal data and the extra-legal regime of personal archive. It argues that existing legislation and proposed regulations require substantial revisions to mitigate the impacts of the SCS on data privacy. This article hopes to lay the groundwork for further legal study related to social credit and big data in China.
Keywords: social credit system, big data, privacy, personal data protection, China, right to information
JEL Classification: K23, K39, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation