China is contemplating the creation of a Social Credit System in which privileges and penalties less significant than incarceration or a fine would flow from data compiled about a person in a manner similar to a credit report based upon the extent to which they made pro-social or reputable or anti-social or disreputable choices (that are not themselves illegal) in their lives.

[I]n 2014 the Chinese government announced it was developing what it called a system of “social credit.” In 2014, the State Council, China’s governing cabinet, publicly called for the establishment of a nationwide tracking system to rate the reputations of individuals, businesses, and even government officials. The aim is for every Chinese citizen to be trailed by a file compiling data from public and private sources by 2020, and for those files to be searchable by fingerprints and other biometric characteristics. The State Council calls it a “credit system that covers the whole society.”

For the Chinese Communist Party, social credit is an attempt at a softer, more invisible authoritarianism. The goal is to nudge people toward behaviors ranging from energy conservation to obedience to the Party. Samantha Hoffman, a consultant with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London who is researching social credit, says that the government wants to preempt instability that might threaten the Party. “That’s why social credit ideally requires both coercive aspects and nicer aspects, like providing social services and solving real problems. It’s all under the same Orwellian umbrella.”

Would such a system violate any of the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution if implemented at either the federal or the state level in the United States? (Assume that exemptions for data collection by this system were enacted in various federal and state statutes that might otherwise prohibit the creation of such a system.)

If it would violate any of those freedoms (e.g. freedom of religion by collecting information on church attendance), what aspect of the system would violate them and could those violations be excluded from the system while still leaving something similar in place?

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    Are you just asking about the data collection itself or also what people (private, companies and government) do with that data? The idea of the Chinese social credit system is that persons with high scores get preferential treatment and those with low scores face discrimination in all avenues of life.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 9:44
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    This is a good question but wouldn't it be 100% better fit for Law.SE?
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 13:07
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    I do not know if the question is about the data recollection or the application of punishments to activities that are legal but not approved by the government. If it is the later, maybe a paralel could be stablished to the laws forbidding the government from doing business with organizations that support the boycott to Israel products (jpost.com/American-Politics/…). A main difference is that those affect organizations and not (directly) people, but then again Citizens United. Please clarify...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 15:23
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    Questions about whether a certain thing would be legal or constitutional are a better fit for Law, as they require interpreting judicial precedent.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 18:14
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    @Bobson, This isn't about combinations of existing things under existing laws, it's about speculative legislation, lawmaking & and massive social engineering. Seems political...
    – agc
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 5:39

2 Answers 2


There are a number of States, by law that have sex offender registries. Arrest records are public records and although an arrest may be a expunged by court oder, once that arrest appears on a web site, it remains public knowledge. There is actually a scam where people are essentially extorted to have that arrest removed from a web site, regardless of innocence.

While the US government( federal, state, and local) doesn’t operate a full social credit system, it certainly provides much of the data that such a system needs. There is no reason that the Chinese wouldn’t include citizens from other countries who have never stepped foot in China in their system. It would actually be a competitive advantage in a globalized world.

The US government, while not operating a social credit system does use credit reports and medical records of individuals when it suits its purpose, such a investigations for security clearances. In this case the privilege is a job. While many would consider this justifiable, one needs to recall that sexual orientation was considered relevant in denying clearance not that many years ago.

The government may not run such a system but it doesn’t have an aversion to using these systems.

One might argue that the Chinese are actually being more honest while in the US much of the same is happening explicitly outside of government, where the Constitution is less clear about what it protects.


That's a big ole' YES on your first question. For your second, here's why:

The Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot compel an individual to participate in interstate commerce (that is, while you are free to choose to participate in it, you can't be forced to participate in it). The idea of reward system in the U.S. would most likely invoke some system of State Line crossing, if only at the digital level.

Next, you have the aforementioned religious law, but not in the way you intended. The Amish communities do not use modern technologies and are still U.S. citizens and retain the rights of full citizenship. Thus, they would have to be exempted from such a system.

This also has a chilling effect on Free Speech as a whole as you can be down-voted for the protests you attend or the political beliefs you hold (or threatened with being down-voted as punishment). Without defending ideas I feel are "Wrong Think" I do believe they have just a right to be expressed by those who believe them as my "Right Think" (Lousy people who hate Hawaiian Pizza, may they burn in Italian-Hawaiian Hell).

Additionally, this system would take massive amounts of data from the ordinary citizen and allow it to be viewed in some form by other citizens who have no right to view my information. This is a massive violation of the 4th Amendment which affords me the right to keep whatever secrets I please from whom ever I please without due process of the law.

A low score in this system also violates my 6th Amendment Rights (Right to face my accuser.). As I'm sure you've seen on this very exchange, there are numerous times where you are down voted without being given a reason why. This system might down-vote me because some granny saw me step on her lawn or engage in that new fad that shows that kids these days have no respect from the privacy of her home window.

If you would like to see a system like this in proposed action, I suggest watching the Orville episode "Majority Rule". The crux of the plot is that the crew stumbles upon a planet much like our modern world with a legal system based on SE's up/downvote system. To fully explore why Democracy can be too much of a good thing, the story revolves around one of the crew members creating a minor social faux-pas that goes viral and is now facing capital punishment (and yeah, that last part is a little extreme, but considering the guy didn't even know what he did was offensive, it was still quite excessive).

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    I think you're conflating "social network" and "social credit". My understanding from the question and quote is that this is basically just a "Big Data" implementation, not that it would be exposed to everyone or allow any arbitrary data to be added. That said, you do make some good points in the answer despite that.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 18:10
  • @Bobson: Keep in mind, the reason you can use "Social Networks" for free is that you're not their customer, you are there product. I was watching a video last night about how a store can set up an inaudible beacon that will trigger apps on your phone that will let various Networks know you are in that store, which will send manipulations of ads to your account. This is all perfectly legal cause when the app asks to use your microphone and you said yes, that's all they need to do. Also, ads are supposed to manipulate their targets. Governments (certainly not the US) are not, in theory.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 19:48
  • You're not wrong. But in this case you can't make the jump from "being tracked no matter what you do" to "random other person can downvote me". Related, you can't claim the system as described would "allow it to be viewed... [by people] who have no right to view [it]", because the system would explicitly give the right to view it to the appropriate government employees. That may be a Fourth Amendment violation, but you don't have an inherent right to privacy outside of that.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:03
  • @Bobson: So how's it going to reward me for doing good things the Government wants me to do? Either it will be totally automated, so when I turn off my lights, I get a point. If I by a pack of Oreo cookies, I lose a point... in which case, that's the government quantifying my actions in some way (not necessarily for criminal actions, but they can't just look because they are curious). The other option is that it's some peer system. My neighbor sees my lights are on at 3 a.m... the cashier records my purchase... but I'm not losing my credit because they judge me for my actions.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:11
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    @Bobson: I think we're quibbling over the nature of the beast, especially when we don't know how China's works. My premise was from a "these are things it could look like and here's why that is wrong if the US government does it."
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:45

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