Australia’s Digital Identity Program: An Authoritarian Pathway to the Social Credit System?

Australia’s Digital Identity Program: An Authoritarian Pathway to the Social Credit System? By Grace Harrison.

COVID-19 has undoubtedly provided the staging ground for a new technocentric era for Australian society. Mandated QR check-ins, cashless businesses, vaccine passport apps and even a quarantine surveillance program with facial recognition are all part of an accelerated push towards a fully digitalised economy. …

What is ‘the System’?

The ‘Digital Identity System’ is the latest digitisation initiative to be proposed by the Morrison government and has been heavily scrutinised due to its potential for ministerial misuse.

‘The System’ is a platform that links together individuals’ official forms of identification for verification purposes across a range of service providers; including accredited businesses and government agencies. In simplified terms, it’s being presented as a ‘safe, secure and convenient way to prove who you are online,’ to reduce ‘identity fraud and cybercrime.’ …

In a referendum in the late 1980s, Australians rejected the similar concept of the “Australia Card.” But the bureaucrats and big-government enthusiasts bided their time, and now we are moving in the Chinese direction:

Imagine a government-run platform that integrates all aspects of your digital life; allowing access to your medical records like vaccination status, integrating with the QR code system and location tracking, syncing with your bank accounts, surveilling your internet activity, connecting biometric facial recognition with policing initiatives and so on.

The Digital Identity program may be bound by laws that purport to offer certain protections and assurances to users, but can we trust that the government will uphold these laws? …

Politicians love their pandemic powers:

We have seen what happens when state premiers are awarded the power to govern autonomously; megalomania. Propped up by the ‘public health emergency,’ each Australian state, to varying degrees, has inched towards authoritarianism.

By definition, authoritarianism is a form of government ‘favouring or enforcing strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom.’ Is this not a fitting description for a regime of vaccine mandates, harsh extended lockdowns, bans on peaceful protesting, public reviling of dissenting views, excessive policing and censorship? The sad truth is that the country we are now living in bears more resemblance to communist China than a western liberal democracy.

China is a bureaucrat’s paradise:

In China, technology has been a highly effective tool of oppression and control for decades. The use of mass video surveillance, strict information control and internet activity monitoring are a few of the mechanisms employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to ensure civilian compliance while identifying and penalising dissidents. The CCP refers to these control measures as ‘the eyes that safeguard China’ — necessary precautions taken for the safety and security of the nation.

Throughout the pandemic, Australia, like China, has also consistently used the rhetoric of protection to warrant government overreach. In the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.’

Perhaps the most insidious of China’s digital initiatives is the social credit system; it began in 2014 as an opt-in program and to this day remains ‘voluntary.’ However, like ‘voluntary’ vaccination in Australia, there are incentives for participating and deterrents for not participating.

The social credit system collects and pieces together data into a unified record — the objective of which is to monitor and evaluate the ‘trustworthiness’ of businesses, institutions and individuals. It’s more than just a means of identification; it’s a metric for determining the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people in society and treating them accordingly.

The exact methodology behind social credit rankings is unknown, however, your positioning can be affected by even the slightest of transgressions like playing your music too loud, jaywalking, spending money frivolously, spreading ‘fake news’ or playing video games too much.

 

 

Punishments for poor social credit include increased audits and government inspections for businesses, reduced employment prospects, travel bans, exclusion from private schools, slow internet connection, exclusion from hotels, and public shaming. Rewards for positive social credit include fast-tracked approvals for government services, discounts on energy bills, better interest rates at banks and so on.

If your social credit plummets too far, you may end up on the ‘blacklist,’ which is comprised of those the CCP deems ‘untrustworthy.’ A deterrent for ending up on this unfortunate register is public shaming. The information of blacklisted individuals is deliberately made accessible to the public, and their faces and names are displayed on billboards and in venues alongside the word ‘untrustworthy.’

Chinese journalist, Liu Hu, was placed on the blacklist for writing about censorship and government corruption. The Supreme Court ruled that because of his work, he was ”not qualified” to buy a plane ticket, and banned from travelling some train lines, buying property, or taking out a loan.

The social credit system in China is the ultimate merger of technocentrism and tyranny. It is what digitisation looks like in the hands of autocrats, and it is what the Digital Identity system has the potential to become.

Our governing philosophy is becoming “bureaucracy with Australian characteristics.”

It may seem that Australia is a still a world away from the blatant oppression of communist China, but make no mistake, we are hurtling towards that same fate at a frightening pace.

In under two years, our society has been restructured from the top-down — Australians are being openly discriminated against on the basis of medical status, freedom has become a privilege bestowed by the government, legislation can no longer be relied upon, extensive propaganda campaigns have invaded all forms of media, those with dissenting views are publicly reviled, shamed and silenced, and the tracking of citizens is not only commonplace but mandated.

Is the Chinese system just the inevitable endpoint when a bureaucracy achieves untrammeled political power by owning a political party, the media, academia, and the administrative state? Perhaps so. Maybe it’s not about ideology, but merely the evolution of power as technology allows. And maybe we need a revolution to stop it.

UPDATE: Petition against Dan Andrew’s power grab in Victoria here.