The planned amendments include specific clauses to protect personal information from willful abuse.
The problem of misuse of personal data has become particularly acute with the development of an information society. Addresses and telephone numbers often become open secrets. Email inboxes are crammed with adverts and spam, and people answer their telephones to find that insurance salesmen have access to their personal details.
The 7th amendment of the criminal law should help protect people's privacy. It will make it an offense for organizations such as government agencies, telecommunications and transportation companies, education and health services etc, to sell or offer, without legitimate reason, their clients' personal data to a third party. Violations may be punished by fines or, in serious cases, imprisonment.
"This is a significant step forward", said Prof. Zhou Hanhua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), who recently helped draft a comprehensive privacy law called the Law on Protection of Personal Information.
But Prof. Ouyang Wu, also of CASS, said Professor Zhou's draft legislation needs to be enacted as soon as possible, and lamented that it was not included in this year's central government legislation plan.
Professor He Haibo of Beijing's Tsinghua University expressed another concern:
"The Criminal Law at present doesn't draw a clear boundary between personal and public information, and that provides an escape route for government organizations reluctant to reveal information to the public".
(China.org.cn by Maverick Chen, August 26, 2008)