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Personal data crimes set to be defined

By Zhang Yan (China Daily)

14:55, July 04, 2012

Crimes involving the theft of personal data will be regulated and clearly defined, a senior officer from the Ministry of Public Security said.

"We're negotiating with the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Supreme People's Court to push forward the legislation to protect personal data," Liao Jinrong, deputy director of the criminal investigation department under the Ministry of Public Security, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

Although the existing Criminal Law includes crimes of illegally obtaining, offering or selling personal data, China lacks a specific regulation with a clear definition of such crimes, making it difficult to obtain convictions, Liao said.

Police launched a national campaign in April to combat crimes related to the theft of personal data.

Officers from 20 provincial-level regions arrested nearly 2,000 suspects for allegedly stealing or disclosing personal information.

This was the first crackdown of its kind and the police discovered the identity of 44 people providing illegal information, destroyed 161 unauthorized databases, and closed 611 companies that illicitly conducted surveys.

The leaking of personal information poses a number of threats, not least to members of the public who may face blackmail or fraud, he said.

There is growing demand, according to Liao, for personal data.

"Usually details primarily fall into two categories,'' he said. "Commercial activity, including real estate and insurance or criminal activity, including telecom or Internet scams, extortion, blackmail and kidnapping " he said.

"We may get spam messages that annoy us but the crimes triggered by leaked personal data cause real harm to society.''

Sources that provide personal data are usually involved in institutions that collect it, including financial institutions, he said.

"They use their positions of convenience to get all kinds of personal information and sell it on,'' he said.

The people it is sold to pass on this information through an online database, and resell it to illegal consulting or business companies.

Usually, a database for a specific type of information, such as phone numbers, will be sold to an illegal company for a price ranging from several hundred to 10,000 yuan ($1,570).

These companies, in turn, will charge their clients anything from 10,000 to 1 million yuan depending on the services they offer, including private detectives, asset investigation, illegal debt collection, even kidnapping.

But Liao acknowledged, that they face practical challenges uncovering crimes related to personal data.

Evidence is hard to gather and can be easily destroyed.

And actually finding out who is involved, disentangling the various fake identities of the criminals, easy to establish online, can be difficult, he said.

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