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China's First Criminal Case Regarding the Infringement of the Security of Personal Information

08 January 2010

By Jun Wei

On January 3, 2010, the Guangdong Provincial Higher People's Court announced the first enforcement action following the extension of Chinese criminal law to include the protection of personal information.  In that action, the Zhuhai Xiangzhou District Court sentenced an individual to one and a half years in prison and imposed a fine on him in the amount of  RMB 2,000 (approximately US $295) for the crime of illegally obtaining the personal information of citizens.  This is the first known case in China regarding the infringement of personal information security

The law upon which the action was based, the 7th Amendment to the PRC Criminal Law, was promulgated on February 28, 2009 by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.  It includes provisions imposing criminal penalties for the infringement of personal information security, specifically targeting two types of infringement:  (i) the sale or illegal disclosure of information obtained by personnel in government agencies or financial, telecommunications, transportation, educational or medical institutions in the process of performing their duties; and (ii) the theft or illegal access of personal information by other individuals. 

In both types of conduct there are severe consequences for infringement, including imprisonment for less than three years, detention for less than six months, and/or the imposition of a fine (as a single penalty or concurrently with other penalties).   In the event that an entity is convicted of infringement, a monetary penalty shall be imposed on that entity, and the officer directly responsible and any other persons who may be directly responsible for such illegal acts shall be subject to the same criminal penalties that are applicable to natural persons.

According to news reports, in December 2008 the defendant in this case, Zhou Jianping, a resident of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, illegally obtained the phone numbers and call history records of 14 government officials and sold these phone numbers and call histories for RMB 16,000 (approximately US $2,353).  The purchaser, in conspiracy with six other people, then used this information to impersonate the government officials and extract RMB 830,000 ( approximately US $122,060) from a variety of relatives.

The defendant did not appeal and the judgment took effect December 14, 2009.

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