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Editorial : The need for legislation to protect personal data

【明報專訊】HIGH technology on the mainland develops by leaps and bounds. With the help of high technology, the Ministry of Public Security has pulled off extraordinary feats one after another — it has cracked down on criminals forcefully and prevented crimes effectively, deserving undeniable credit. However, corporations using high technology have collected personal data extensively. There is not yet a methodical, open and transparent mechanism for handling such information, whose existence might be an infringement of privacy.

A primary-level police station at Yixing, Jiangsu conducted a major campaign against prostitution recently. It is said that police officers, during a raid on a foot bath centre, got hold of a list of patrons who had used online payment methods. Using the list, the police sent SMS messages to patrons making payments of over 600 RMB by scanning barcodes, "summoning" them to go to the police station on their own initiative so as to explain whether they had solicited a prostitute. Otherwise, they would be "forcefully summoned". The news made a stir on the internet. While some people supported the police's forceful enforcement of the law, there were more who were worried that as so much personal private information had become exposed, the police would abuse their power, so much so that all personal behaviour would become visible. There were repeated doubts over the protection of privacy.

The matter is still in development pending further investigation by higher-ranking officials. Since the police station in question is at the lowest level of the hierarchy, it might be normal for it not to follow the regulations strictly. The real issue, however, is whether the Ministry of Public Security has provided sufficient training for subordinate departments concerning the protection of privacy so as to enable them to treat private information seriously when enforcing the law.

But the system of public security is, after all, a highly disciplined department. If the idea of and system for the protection of privacy are introduced, they will be put into practice nationwide as soon as the instructions are made. Even if there are black sheep, they will be spotted and disciplined without much difficulty. In fact, what is even more difficult to handle is the many corporations which have been authorised to collect private data. These include schools who have the mobile phone numbers of parents and banks who have even more data of their clients. Bicycle-sharing companies and even delivery boys have certain information of their customers. Untrammeled by rules or regulations, these organisations and employees often sell such private information to other commercial organisations or even criminals for profit. This is what is truly worrying. Fraudulent phone calls have become daily occurrences. But how actually did the criminals obtain the private information of individuals? How is it that they know accurately such information as someone's age and relatives? No doubt this has become a hotbed of crime.

Technology today has rendered personal data nearly "naked". The advent of the age of big data, together with artificial intelligence technology, enables the juxtaposition of all sorts of seemingly unrelated data into information that is interrelated. Using such technology, the police can no doubt improve their performance in cracking cases, so much so that criminals will have nowhere to hide. Such being the case, the protection of personal data and privacy is even more important, and the enaction of related legislation is urgently needed.

明報社評2019.04.29:江蘇警察涉濫用高科技 保護個人信息立法急迫

內地高科技發展一日千里,公安部門利用高科技屢建奇功,有力打擊罪犯,有效防止罪案,功不可沒。然而,機構利用高科技廣泛地蒐集了個人資料,但如何處理這些可能侵犯私隱的資料,則未見嚴謹和公開透明的執行辦法。

江蘇宜興的一個基層派出所,執行掃黃大行動,據稱,警方在搜查一家足浴店時,獲得了一份使用網上支付工具的顧客名單,據此向掃碼付款超過600元人民幣的顧客發出手機短訊,「傳喚」他們主動到公安局,說明是否有嫖妓行為,否則將會「強制傳喚」。消息在網上傳開,引發一場哄動,有支持警方強力執法的言論,更多的是擔心個人私隱大白於天下,警方取得有關信息是否濫權,今後一切個人行為會否「無所遁形」,私隱如何得到保障,一再被質疑。

事件仍然發酵中,有待高層進一步調查處置。涉事派出所屬於最基層的單位,處理事情不夠規範或許是常態,問題是公安部對下轄的單位,在保護個人私隱方面,是否有足夠的培訓,讓他們在執法的過程中,認真尊重保護個人信息。

公安系統畢竟是一個紀律嚴明的部門,只要有保護個人私隱的概念與制度,一聲令下,全國執行,即使有害群之馬,也能夠輕易查出和懲處,其實,更難處理的是其他眾多獲得授權蒐集個人信息的機構,學校有家長的手機號碼,銀行有客戶更多的資料,共享單車公司以至送外賣的小哥,都有顧客的某些個人資料,這些機構與員工,在沒有制度約束下,往往會將機構蒐集得來的個人信息,出售予商業公司甚至不法人員圖利,這才是真正值得擔憂的事情。現在出現無日無之的電話詐騙案,匪徒是如何獲得個人的資料,甚至是準確地知悉個人年齡和親屬關係等資料,無疑成了犯罪的溫牀。

目前的科技手段,個人信息已經近乎「赤裸」,大數據時代的來臨,加上人工智能的技術,可以將各種無關的信息拼湊而組織成有關聯的信息,警方利用這種科技,無疑可以提高破案手段,罪犯無處藏身,在這種情况下,保護個人信息與私隱更形重要,有關法例的立法更是刻不容緩。

■Glossary

methodical : done in a careful and logical way

subordinate : in a less important position than someone else

untrammeled : not limited by rules or any other controlling influence

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