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Lawmakers, political advisers focus on personal data protection

By Cao Yin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-20 08:22


Legislation seen as necessary to better stem abuse of information amid growth of technology

Top lawmakers and political advisers are pushing for improved legislation on personal data protection, urging at the same time for the need to maintain a healthy and robust development of the digital sector.

With the rapid growth of the internet and information technology, there have been cases in which personal data was improperly collected, abused and leaked, undermining people's rights, according to Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the second session of the 13th National People's Congress, the country's top legislative body.

The NPC Standing Committee "has put legislation on personal information protection on its agenda," he said, adding that the relevant departments and agencies are now working on the draft legislation.

Zhang made the remarks at the recent news conference of the session, noting that the country needs a law specifically aimed at protecting personal information, as current channels of protection are too scattered throughout various laws and regulations.

The legislative plan quickly became a hot topic among the NPC deputies, "as it relates to our interest, our personal security and national security", said Ma Yide, a deputy from Beijing.

Many Western countries have similar privacy protection laws and law schools of most universities in the United States offer the subject as a major course, he said.

"It's a must to draft the law and it's necessary to formulate it as soon as possible," said Ma, who is also a law professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

Gao Zicheng, another NPC deputy, agreed with Ma and expressed his concern over online criminal activity.

"The origin of the problem lies in the leak or improper use of personal information," said Gao, adding that was why legislation on the issue must be urgently moved forward.

According to the annual work report of the Supreme People' Court, the country's top court, Chinese courts concluded 8,907 internet-related criminal cases, such as online fraud, the illegal use and collection or purchase of personal information, online pyramid selling and stealing business secrets through internet technologies.

Gao told China Daily that one of his suggestions to the NPC this year was also related to privacy protection, focusing on the collection and use of biodata.

"Our personal information not only includes identity card numbers and home addresses, but also our facial expressions, fingerprints, medical records and physical appearance," he said, adding that all protection of such information should be guaranteed by legislation.

Both the deputies admitted that there were still many challenges in drafting the law.

"The biggest challenge we are facing now is defining what personal information is and how much of the information can be disclosed," Gao said, suggesting that lawmakers fully solicit public opinion and conduct adequate research on the issue.

To that effect, lawyers will be a major resource for legislators, he said, as they are "proficient in legal knowledge and get access to people across society, which can help them understand the needs and demands of the public in the area".

The lack of a main agency to help lead the drafting process may pose a challenge, Ma said.

"Information management is scattered throughout different departments, such as public security bureaus and cyberspace regulators. That urgently needs to be unified," he said.

The NPC Standing Committee should lead the drafting of the law with the Ministry of Justice, "as the ministry has been granted rights in dealing with legal affairs after an institutional reform last year", Ma said.

"Such a joint force can also prevent an isolated authority from abusing its power in the process," he said.

Zhu Xinli, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top political advisory body, said that the development of the digital data industry is as important as the information protection.

"Lawmakers should clarify situations in which people's information can be disclosed ... to ensure the smooth and improved flow of data," he said.

"Privacy protection and the proper collection or use of data is not in conflict," said Sun Pishu, another NPC deputy.

"Instead, in the market-driven environment, we will benefit more from data only if the responsibilities of each group are clarified."

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