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China eyes protecting online personal information via legislation

A draft bill on strengthening Internet information protection will formally be tabled for deliberation at a bimonthly session of China's legislature set to open on Monday.

Widely hailed by Internet and telecom experts and online commentators, the long-awaited move comes amid China's efforts to secure citizens' personal information from becoming prey to illegality.

Behind China's surging online scam, fraud and identity theft in recent years has been a rapidly growing Internet sector and a lagged-behind law system for personal information protection, according to analysts.

A public security ministry statement released on Friday showed how Internet information can be abused by unveiling real cases.

On April 7, an Internet user surnamed Sun in east China's Wuxi City was shocked to know around 47,000 yuan (around 7,400 U.S. dollars) was transferred out of his Internet bank account nine times that day.

Police investigations found the money all went to an unverified personal account with a popular online payment service that the culprit registered on the same day.

The culprit spent the sum in buying Internet virtual currency in order to launder the money he illicitly obtained.

It took time for police to ascertain the real identity of the suspect because no real name was provided in the online payment account registration.

Surnamed Liu, the suspect was finally apprehended in northeast China's Liaoning Province, according to the ministry statement.

In another case unveiled by police, in 2011, a businesswoman in south China's Nanning City was swindled out of 380,000 yuan via QQ, an online instant massaging service, by someone who pretended to be her son who is studying in London.

China has reported soaring QQ-related scams since 2009, as criminal suspects became increasingly "professional" in online cheating, according to police authorities.

Criminal suspects stole QQ passwords of a chat-mate during chatting with others indiscriminately, police said. Meanwhile, they used software to capture videos and images of the prey.

In their following step, the suspects logged online with the QQ password to cheat the original user's friends online.

Police said in some cases it is difficult to trace the suspects when they use unregistered mobile phone cards and wireless network cards as well as fake credit cards for online fraud.

In a high-profile crackdown on criminal activities related to personal information launched in April, police across the country uncovered 44 "sources" that sold citizens' identity.

During the campaign, police in Changsha City cracked a personal information trade ring self-proclaimed as "China Resources Department."

The Illegal group's computers stored more than 150 million entries of personal information, with particulars from names, phone numbers, addresses, real estate, vehicles, phone records, to flight records.

"The lack of a sound law system to protect personal information in China is a serious problem," said Li Yuxiao, an expert in Internet management and law studies with Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

He said the country should quicken legislation moves to toughen the fight on infringement upon privacy.

Zhou Hanhua, a law research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said that under current laws, it is hard to bring those who illegally seek profit from abuse of citizens' personal information to justice.

Current laws failed to give clear judicial interpretations on law application and punishment measurement regarding crimes of Internet information in many cases, according to police officials.

Besides upgrading China's laws, the Internet users themselves should also improve their own awareness of safeguarding privacy of their own and others, wrote Liu Huawen, a law expert with the CASS.

[Source: Xinhua, Beijing, 22Dec12]

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