Could China’s ‘social credit score’ happen here? Utah lawmakers move to make sure it can’t

A House committee unanimously endorsed a bill to ban a government social credit system.

The idea that China’s “social credit score” could be implemented here has captured the horrified imaginations of many in America. The Orwellian fear that the government could assign a numeric value based on behavior, which would impact every aspect of a person’s life is frightening indeed. Such a system doesn’t exist, but that minor detail did not stop a Utah House committee from endorsing a ban on it anyway.

Tuesday afternoon, the House Business and Labor Committee gave a unanimous thumbs-up to HB281, which blocks governments from creating or using a system that uses social credit scores that results in preferential or discriminatory treatment against citizens.

Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, suggested these scoring systems could be based on a person’s carbon footprint, their political leanings or possibly their social connections. She did not give any examples of such a system currently being used in America but warned about the dystopian future that awaits if it comes to pass.

“It’s sometimes called ‘tech-induced totalitarianism,’ or digitally-induced social control where they use these other factors to move people in one direction or another,” Acton said. “It’s another way to socially engineer acceptable behavior. To my mind, it’s un-American because it’s a way to reshape society outside of the political process.”

The fears about China’s social credit system have been around since it was first announced in 2014 to reward trustworthiness in society and punish bad behavior. The MIT Technology Review reported the ever-evolving system is being used to regulate financial credit and promote “state-sanctioned moral values,” benefiting those who maintain a positive profile.

Acton’s sole example of such a system being implemented outside of China was Canada’s use of emergency powers to freeze bank accounts and cut off funding to the organizers of last year’s trucker convoy.

“We’ve seen examples where people were expressing their personal beliefs about a situation,” Acton said. “The government stepped in with the trucker convoy, and it was a reminder that the state controls their electronic purse strings, and that’s the sort of thing we want to prevent.”

The protests over COVID-19 vaccine requirements blocked key border crossings and snarled traffic around the capital of Ottawa for weeks. Most of the blocked bank accounts were unlocked in a few days.

Much of the concern about social credit scores on Tuesday seemed to be driven by the current panic about environment social and governance investing principles, more commonly known as ESG, where large investment firms prioritize sectors like green energy while divesting from the fossil fuel industry. Conservatives have demonized the approach as a sort of social engineering. Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka praised Acton’s proposal and cited talk show host Glenn Beck as an authority on the danger of ESG.

“Last year, we brought Glenn Beck here, and everybody was really receptive,” Ruzicka said. “This year I heard at one point there were something like 35 bills on ESG. To have this much attention to something that’s so incredibly important for all of us, and that people are realizing now this is real.”

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, who is sponsoring legislation to block private businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations for customers and employees, unsurprisingly gave Acton’s bill a full-throated endorsement.

“This is much more serious than we ever anticipated. It really is a Trojan horse, businesses using free commerce to manipulate the general public,” Brooks said. “I appreciate the attention to this so we can address these issues.”

Acton’s bill only places a ban on governments enacting a social credit system. Businesses would still be free to create a rating system for customers based on whatever criteria they decide. The only exception is for financial institutions. Consumers can make complaints about the use of a social credit score to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, which is then required to make an annual report to lawmakers.