China Sets its Landmark Legislation to Protect Individual Privacy Rights

China, in its landmark legislation, has set to enshrine individuals’ rights to privacy and personal data for the first time, since the country with a population of more than 1.4 billion has emerged in the digital world and many of them are vulnerable to leaks and hacks.

The Legal experts pointed out that the existing Chinese laws do not provide provisions for the protection of individual rights to privacy and in many cases, companies that were responsible for breaches were left unpunished.

China’s Legislation on Civil Code

A proposal for the legislation of China’s first civil code was being deliberated during the annual meeting of parliament, which began on Friday after a delay of more than two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent draft, an individual has a right to privacy while data collectors must ensure to protect an individual’s personal information and cannot obtain, disclose or conduct transactions of such data without consent.

The latest move of the Chinese government is widely seen as an effort to protect its people from cyber-attack and place safeguards on the movement of valuable Chinese data overseas as the country has submerged to the fast-growing internet sector. Nonetheless, lawyers and legal experts considered the recognition of digital privacy rights was an important first step to allow readdress in case of breaching the individual rights.

Moreover, the Chinese Parliament has sought plans to introduce separate legislation specifically on the protection of personal information later this year in a bid to set stronger penalties for breaches or leaks in order to provide effective protection.

Challenges Related to Data Privacy

Although China’s proposal for privacy protection laws was not as rigid as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations, the legislation, however, has placed China among a minority of countries that set legal frameworks for individual data privacy, explained by Chen Lei, a law professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

Chinese courts also have been facing challenges in regard to lawsuits related to the violation of privacy rights and passed inconsistent judgments on those cases due to inadequate regulations and guidance for the judiciary system. In one high-profile case, a group of 42 people sued an American tech giant, Amazon.com (Amazon) in 2017 for the violation of their personal data by scammers.

Xu Ke, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, explained, “When the law hasn’t set a definition for personal information, then a lot of disputes are very hard to resolve because there’s no way to sue.”

Citing the court’s ruling against the victims, Wang Congwei, one of the victims’ lawyers, reflected, “The court’s decision is such that companies won’t value personal information protection or digital safety practices.” Wand added, “(The civil code) will help, whether from the perspective of civil suits, or from the perspective of safeguarding rights for the victim, it’s more clear, and for the courts, this is a clearer standard.”

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