JSD Student Wins Award for Paper on China’s Social Credit System

Xin Dai, JSD '18

Xin Dai, JSD ’18, was honored by the leading organization of privacy lawyers and advisors at last month’s Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC) for his paper on China’s roll-out of reputation monitoring tools, marking the third consecutive year in which a Law School student or alumnus has won a top award at the conference.

The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) recognized Dai’s paper—“Toward a Reputation State: The Social Credit System Project of China,” which is a chapter from his dissertation—with the award for the best paper presented at the conference. Last year Roger Ford, ’05, won the conference’s other major award, for best paper by an untenured scholar, following in the footsteps of Matthew Tokson, ’08, who won the untenured scholar award the previous year.

“Winning the IAPP award as a graduate student is an amazing but well-deserved accomplishment,” said Lior Strahilevitz, the Sidley Austin Professor of Law, who served on Dai’s dissertation committee. “Eighty papers were presented at PLSC, and it’s an honor even to be able to present there.”

The IAPP, an 18-year-old international organization with more than 30,000 members, sponsors an award for two papers presented at the PLSC that exhibit “overall excellence and relevance to the practice of privacy law.” The two winning authors each receive $2,500 from the IAPP and an opportunity to present the paper at the IAPP Privacy Academy.

“It came really as a pleasant surprise, but what’s most encouraging is to learn at the conference that so many prominent privacy law experts are genuinely interested in this subject,” Dai said.

Dai’s paper examines the Chinese government’s adoption of a “social credit system” that, among other things, monitors the behavior of citizens and creates a ranking system—similar in some aspects to a private credit score—that could govern access to finance, government benefits, travel, schools, and other parts of daily life. The paper is the first comprehensive examination of the program, which China hopes to have fully in place by 2020.

Strahilevitz describes Dai’s scholarship as “ambitious in its scope, meticulously researched, and admirably even-handed.” He added that as part of his research, “Dai mastered the English-language privacy literature while also immersing himself in an exhaustive investigation of what China is doing and where its social credit project may be heading. In recent years academia has focused much of its attention on the transformational changes to privacy regulation occurring in Europe, but Dai’s paper convinced many readers that what’s happening in China may be far more interesting, and at least as consequential for privacy.”

Added Dai: “In recent years there has been quite some hype in the Western press about China’s social credit system project, but it seems to me that systematic and empirically informed research is much needed for people to effectively understand the project’s actual objectives, parameters, mechanisms, and implications.”

“The study of reputation is a major tradition of Chicago,” Dai said. “What I’ve found in this project is that through the lens of reputation theories we not only make better sense of this complex policy development in China but could also situate this case in the much broader background deliberation about how law and governance are evolving into the future.”