Online privacy law looms

By Liu Sha Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-24 9:56:55

A draft bill aiming to protect private information online will be reviewed by the National People's Congress, it was announced on Monday.

The draft was met with support by law experts and Web users as it targets the abuse of personal information and the rising trend of online crimes. However, concerns were voiced that the law would stop informants relying on the Internet for anonymity, at a time when online tip-offs have greatly contributed to the new leadership's anti-graft campaign.

According to figures from the China Internet Network Information Center, of all fraud cases, over 64 percent were related to false websites seeking to acquire users' personal information, Xinhua reported.

The Ministry of Public Security Friday released the details of several cases, outlining how Internet information could be abused and how anonymous crimes hidden online are very difficult to solve.

Data crimes, such as online fraud, libel and stealing people's personal information, have grown increasingly common, the ministry said.

"It is necessary to enact a law to regulate Internet companies who have access to people's personal information, like Tencent Technology Co and Taobao, and hold them accountable if personal information is leaked," Lü Benfu, an expert on Internet security with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told the Global Times.

However, like many Web users, Lü also worried that the new law might cast a shadow on an anti-corruption campaign that is growing more intensive online, through which at least five officials have been removed from their posts in the last three months.

Since Tuesday, the People's Daily ran four articles about the need to regulate online information.

"Openness does not mean acting recklessly, freedom of expression does not mean cursing anywhere, information-sharing does not mean irresponsibly breaking the privacy of others and spreading rumors," said the Communist Party of China's official paper on Sunday.

The word "rumor" was doubted by Yang Lixin, a law professor with the Renmin University of China. "Most of these corruption cases, before the government's formal announcements, were considered 'rumors,' and they often turned out to be the truth," said Yang.

Yang told the Global Times that if the law stipulated the need for clean cyberspace and that netizens were not allowed to spread the so-called "rumors," the public's right to free speech and the online campaign to fight corruption would be seriously affected.

Social networking sites, especially Sina Weibo, have played an important role in the anti-graft campaign in the last several months.

Ji Xuguang, the reporter who brought down a Chongqing official recently after publishing details about his sex scandal on Weibo, said that he worried that nobody would dare criticize officials once authorities passed laws to regulate online expression.

Some countered that uploading sex photos or videos online and fingering officials could become a trend in which people pass on compromising material simply to cater to a growing public lust for scandal. Such accusations could seriously damage an innocent official's reputation even if later disproved.

"Weibo sometimes does become a dumping ground for people's negative emotions," said Lü, adding that he would support the law as long as it focuses on stopping the abuse of information and protects people, instead of taking away their freedom of expression.

There are more than 500 million Internet users on the Chinese mainland, but the Internet has been running for about 20 years without specific regulations, Xinhua reported Sunday.

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