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Draft rule on protecting personal data gets push

(China Daily)

09:39, April 16, 2013

Experts are calling on legislators to draw up a personal information protection law as soon as possible to provide a safe online environment under a real-name system.

Under a proposed regulation published on the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's website last week, people who apply for fixed-line phone service or buy wireless Internet cards would have to present their identity cards.

The move follows the adoption of a real-name registration system for cellphone users about three years ago.

The proposal, on which public opinion has been on since April 10 and will continue through May 15, aroused discussion among experts on how to protect privacy in an era of big data.

Zhou Hanhua, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' law institute, said it is important that China creates a law to protect personal information or the invasion of privacy on the Internet will get more serious.

Although the top legislature published a decision on improving the protection of personal information at the end of 2012, "it is far from enough". Zhou said.

The legislative document is not a special law in particular to deal with problems of privacy protection in cyberspace, he said.

"We just have a legal framework and some basic principles, but all of them are difficult to enforce and cannot threaten enterprises," Zhou said.

Telecom companies that do not register and protect users' personal information would be fined up to 30,000 yuan ($4,848) under to the ministry's draft proposal.

Only if the personal information protection proposal becomes law will the problem of privacy disclosure be addressed, Zhou said.

He told China Daily that some people's online information on certain websites, such as those of medical centers, banks and media companies, have had serious leaks, and what the public knows about the problem might be only the tip of the iceberg.

"Collecting users' data and selling the information to others is of great interest to enterprises, which is why many online operators and Internet company employees are still ‘stealing' information," he said.

So it is a "must" to establish the law, making clear what personal information is and outlining punishments for online industries that reveal it, he added.

Li Yuxiao, a professor at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, echoed Zhou's sentiments, saying the first priority is to define "personal information".

Currently, many netizens provide lots of information online when registering an account and shopping on the Internet, but they do not know whether the information is necessary and how it is being used, he said.

"We need a rule that can not only help netizens understand what kind of information should be presented, but also supervise Web enterprises to legally use what they get from users," he said.

Both experts participated in the United States-China Internet Industry Forum in Beijing last week and expressed their concerns over the country's Internet privacy leaks.

They said cooperation with the US on personal information protection should be done carefully.

The US prefers self-regulation in the online industry, "but that is not suitable for our country", Zhou said, adding that China needs a strict legal provision instead.

In addition, the two countries have a different understanding of personal information, "so reaching an agreement on the definition of privacy is vital to establish cooperation", Li added.

Zhang Yaoming, deputy director with the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, said protecting netizens' personal information in a real-identity environment is difficult, and China has not found a good way to do so.

"We cannot deny the real-name system brought benefits for us, such as the ability to crack down on online crimes, but the development of the system has a long way to go," he added.

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