China has approved sweeping new rules that will govern the collection and use of people’s personal data going forward.

CNN, citing the state-run Xinhua News Agency, reported that the Personal Information Protection Law was approved Friday by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. It will take effect 1 November

Essentially this new law prohibits “illegally collecting, using, processing, transmitting, disclosing and trading people’s personal information.”

Privacy law

According to CNN, before this new law, China had no law in place specifically concerning the collection and use of personal data.

Instead, law enforcement agencies and officials in the country had relied on legal provisions that existed across a number of existing laws, in order to handle cases related to data privacy.

The full text of the law is not yet public, but Xinhua reported that, among other things, it “clarifies” rules governing the “processing” and “provision” of personal information across borders.

Chinese officials have become increasingly concerned at the collection of data, as evidenced in March when Tesla cars were banned from Chinese military complexes and sensitive industrial or government facilities, due to concerns over the data collection capabilities of the cars.

Elon Musk at the time denied the company’s electric cars could be used to leak information from China.

Surveillance regulation

And surprisingly the new law, according to Xinhua, will also create stronger regulation of China’s public surveillance system.

CNN reported the law will require the disclosure and labelling of hardware used in identifying people in public places.

And collected data can only be used for maintaining public safety, the news agency reportedly said.

This is a new development considering China’s well known operation of a vast surveillance system in the country, that utilises advanced facial recognition and AI, which is alleged to control crime but also to check identities in subways, schools and office buildings.

Critics argue China’s surveillance system is used to subdue ethnic minorities including muslims and Uighurs.

According to CNN, citing state broadcaster CCTV, China’s new law also stipulates that companies cannot use personal data to target individuals for marketing.

And firms must make it easy for users to opt out of targeted marketing.

CCTV also reported that sensitive personal information – such as biometrics, health care and financial accounts – should only be processed with the individual’s consent.

Tough penalities

And the penalties for not following the new regulations are harsh.

Should a company illegally handle personal information, their services could be suspended or terminated, according to the law.

Those who refuse to make corrections will be handed a fine of up to 1 million yuan ($153,000).

China is known for its strict rules, and has clashed repeatedly with Western governments and companies over its regulations.

In July and August last year, tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter announced they had stopped processing requests for user data made by Hong Kong law enforcement authorities, while they carried out an assessment of the draconian security law.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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