Data Privacy under the PRC Network Security Law and the Draft PRC E-Commerce Law

First, here are some slides for quick reference if you are lazy and don’t want to read.

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The PRC Network Security Law (“NS Law”) has come into force on June 1, 2017. This law provides certain provisions in relation to the data privacy. Some of them appear to be beneficial to the individual data owners, whilst some others may be counter-productive to the protection of data privacy.

In parallel, the legislative branch of the Chinese government has published a draft PRC E-Commerce Law (“Draft EC Law”) for public consultation in December 2016.  This draft law has not yet to be passed by the PRC National People’s Congress (NPC) to become effective. However, its provisions have reflected some basic attitudes of the Chinese authority towards the protection of data privacy.

This essay sets out and provides my comments on the key provisions with respect the data privacy under the NS Law and the Draft EC Law.  In order to make readers digesting these laws easily, I will apply Daniel J. Solove’s theory of categorization of the data privacy issues.

1. Data Collection and Aggregation

“Aggregation” means the gathering of a person’s data from different sources and then combining them to form a clearer image of the person.

  • Art. 22.3 of the NS Law: ISP cannot collect its users’ personal information without the expressive consent. Art. 41 of the NS Law: ISP shall publish the rules, purpose, method, and scope of collection of personal information. No collection without users’ consent.[Comments: (i) These provisions do not distinguish “collection” and “aggregation”.  (ii) As a result, although these provisions have clearly required an operator to obtain consent before collecting its users’ information, they did not address the issue whether a third party can search and aggregate personal information (either from the public domain or from the first-hand data collectors.)]

2. Surveillance

Surveillance means the act or system enabling the government or a company to monitor user’s activities (“Big brother is watching you”).

  • Art. 51 of the Draft EC Law obliges E-commerce business operators to provide data to government authority (although it also said that the government authority should adopt “necessary measures” to protect data security).
    [Comments: (i) This provision legitimized (rather than prohibited) the surveillance practice.]
  • Art. 21.3 of the NS Law: ISPs are obliged to monitor and record user’s activities and should keep records for no less than 6 months.
    [Comments: (i) this could be counter-productive to protecting privacy from the individual data owner’s perspective; (ii) the 6 months storage obligation is not new in China, but the NS Law makes the compliance to be a necessity (at least on paper). ]

3. Identification

Identification means to identify a particular person or a particular group of persons by data analysis.

  • Art. 42.1 of the NS Law: No sharing of identifiable personal data without consent. Art. 50 of the Draft EC Law: an E-commerce business entity is obliged to take protection measures to ensure anonymity before it shares the e-commerce data with another E-commerce business entity.[Comments: Article 42 of the NS Law first prohibits business operators from divulging personal information to a third party. Then it says that if the data cannot identify a particular person, then it is fine to transfer without the data owner’s consent. Article 50 of the Draft EC Law has generally kept consistency with the NS Law on this regard. ]
  • Art. 45 of the Draft EC Law confirms that the buyers have autonomy over their personal data; it also defines the personal data with a detailed list, such as name, ID certificates number, address, contact details, information of geographical location, bank card info, transaction records, payment records and records of accepting logistic services.[Comments: The Draft EC Law did not distinguish the “private personal data” and the “business personal data”.  In some countries, use and aggregation of the business contacts (e.g. office telephone numbers, office email address and other info shown on a business card) may enjoy certain exemptions.]
  • Art. 46 of the Draft EC Law first provides that collection of personal data requires user consent; then it prohibits the denial of service due to the user’s refusal of providing personal data.

4. Disclosure and Insecurity

Disclosure means the data holder’s own act of disclosing the private facts. Insecurity means the situation that the data is attacked and stolen.

  • Art. 21. 2 and 21.4 of the NS Law request ISP to take technical measures to protect its system from attack; ISP also needs to classify, backup and encrypt data.
  • Art. 22.1 and 22.2 of the NS Law request ISP to take remedial actions when its system is in risk; provide security maintenance during the term of service. These provisions also generally requested the producer of network security products or services to report the authority about the data breach.
  • Art. 27 of the NS Law generally prohibits hacking acts. It also prohibits the assistance of hacking practice, such as tech support, advertising, and settlement of payment.
    [Comments: The provision did not clarify if the “assistance” means knowingly assistance. It also did not clarify if “constructive knowledge” also applies to this provision.]
  • Art. 42.2 of the NS Law requests ISP to take technical measures to protect data from disclosure, damages or loss. It also mentioned that the data holder shall report the data breach to the relevant authority.
  • Art. 49 of the Draft EC Law provides that e-commerce business entities must establish rules and technologies to prevent disclosure of data. It also provides if there is a data breach, the e-commerce business entity is obliged to (i) take remedial measures, (ii) notify the users and (iii) report to government authorities.

5. Exclusion 

Exclusion means the act/rule disabling/excluding a user from maintenance and deletion of his personal data from the system. The reason for deletion can be either those data are objectively outdated or the data owner simply changed its mind of disclosing the data.

  • Art. 43 of the NS Law: User has right to request deletion if the service provider’s collection or use of personal information in breach of the law/agreement; or there are mistakes in the personal information.[Comments: According to this provision, if there is no mistake in the personal information and the service provider does not breach the contract, then the data owner will not have right to remove the data he/she has provided to the service provider. It is not clear whether “mistake” herein includes “outdated”.  However, it seems clear that data owner would have lost an absolute right of deletion.]
  • Art. 47 of the Draft EC Law: provides that when a user requests correction or supplement of his/her personal information, the E-commerce business entity should correct or supplement the information accordingly.
  • Art. 48(3) of the Draft EC Law: provides that a user has right to delete its personal information. However, such right of deletion only arises (and is only mentioned) upon lapse of agreed / statutory term of preservation of personal data.

6. Increased Accessibility

Increased accessibility means, without the consent of the personal data owner, making the information that is already available to the public EASIER for a wider scope of the audience to access.

E.g., a buyer’s review of a particular product is usually made available to the public.  However, the buyer might not want his friends or colleagues to know that he purchased such product.

Neither the Draft EC Law nor the NS Law has provision preventing increased accessibility of data.

7. Blackmail, which means using a person’s personal data to blackmail him/her.

In e-commerce scenarios, it is possible that an e-commerce vendor may blackmail a buyer with the buyer’s personal records when the vendor gives a negative review of the vendor’s product. The Draft EC Law has no provision preventing such blackmails.

8. Distortion

Distortion: means disseminating false and misleading information to manipulate the way a person is perceived and judged by others.

  • Art. 42.1 of the NS Law provides that service providers cannot distort personal information. But this appears to be too general.
  • Art. 52 of the Draft EC Law stipulates that the state should promote all e-commerce business entities to ensure that information is accurate and reliable etc.

9. Second Use

Second use means the use of data for purposes unrelated to the purposes for which the data was initially collected without the data subject’s consent.

  • Art. 52 of the Draft EC Law provides that the State shall establish public data sharing mechanism. Such mechanism necessarily involves the second use of data. However, no guidance or rules are provided in relation to second use except to the extent that the State should ensure e-commerce business entities shall protect the liability, security, and authenticity of aggregated data.