The University of Southern California, The University of Texas Health Science Center and Emory University are working in partnership to develop an app with a social credit system eerily similar to China’s horrific social credit system.
Using a myriad of tech resources, the Chinese social credit system has the power to deny a host of important goods and/or services to people who fail to embrace the Communist Party dogma. Citizens of the communist state are subject to constant surveillance. Those who engage in behaviors even slightly disapproved of by the powers that be can see their lives destroyed overnight.
The excuse for the app development by American colleges is, of course, the coronavirus crisis and the “need” to track people’s movements to ensure they aren’t exposed to COVID-19.
There are two huge problems with the social credit app. First of all, it constitutes a huge infringement on personal privacy. It would not only track where a person goes 24/7, but also tally up the “scores” of the places a person visits to calculate one’s aggregate “risk score.” People who stay home all the time would naturally earn a good score. Someone who has to drop off their child at daycare or school every day, care for an aging family member, and/or hold down a part-time job at a restaurant or local grocery store could be labeled a risk. The individual who attends church, synagogue, or the local mosque would be in danger of being labeled a “high-risk individual.”.
Medical treatments would also count towards one’s score. Those leery about an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine may be forced to choose between their health and their ability to study and get a job.
Another big problem with the app would be getting people to install it in the first place. Would universities force students to download the app and provide a score to return to campus? What would happen to students who either refuse to do so — or who wind up with a low score?
As UCLA professor of medicine Dr. Jeffrey Klausner accurately points out, most people won’t agree to involuntary surveillance. Forcing people to download the app would be unconstitutional. There would certainly be legal challenges raised, and it’s probably that many jurisdictions would rule in favor of the challengers.
“We have enough problems with governors issuing orders and denying free personal movement, that the idea that people are going to be ordered to download apps to monitor their movement is highly unlikely and probably not constitutional,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to get Americans to agree to involuntary surveillance.”
Naturally, those conducting research for the new app are eager to dismiss any privacy concerns. Cyrus Shahabi, the leading the research at USC, says there should be a “balance” between privacy protection and public health benefits.
“When you introduce ‘scoring’ that takes other factors into account, it complicates everything, and increases the risk that users will be misinformed or discriminated against due to factors beyond their control,” the professor said.
Nonetheless, the mere suggestion that Americans should be forced to download an app that will track all their movements 24/7, register their medical data, and send it to third-party services should be downright terrifying.