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







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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