Protect personal information online

Updated: 2012-12-26 07:15

By Mo Nong (China Daily)

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Everyone has probably experienced the annoyance of being harassed by phone calls informing them they can claim a valuable gift or more worryingly received a subpoena from a local court.

The calls of course are traps, designed to con gullible people into parting with their money. Some elderly people have followed the instructions to remit cash into the swindlers' accounts, either because they could not resist the temptation of the promised gift or were afraid of getting into trouble.

But how do the swindlers get people's phone numbers? Some of them even have very detailed personal information such as addresses, identity card numbers, cellphone numbers and so on. At the thought of crooks discussing ways to make use of your personal information to make money, the hair at the back of your neck may stand up.

It is because of the Internet, which has become a double-edged sword. We can use the convenience of the Internet to get information and conduct transactions of various kinds, but at the same time criminals can take advantage of it to conduct fraudulent activities or commit online crimes. The police have cracked cases involving people who have sold personal information their companies have collected online. Some companies are engaged in the dirty business of collecting personal information and then selling it to whoever wants it.

It has obviously become an urgent task to regulate the Internet to ensure that the rights and interests of Internet users can be effectively protected. China has the largest number of Internet users in the world, but what lags behind is legislation in terms of Internet management and protection of personal information.

It is necessary for some companies to collect personal information in order to conduct online trading or other transactions, but how a company keeps and uses such information and what kind of legal accountability they should shoulder for protecting this information from illegal use remains to be defined by detailed legislation.

Now companies do not have to shoulder any responsibility for leaking personal information. And it seems that very few firms have ever showed any concern for the consequences of what is done with the confidential information they divulge.

That explains why it has become a daily occurrence for an increasing number of people, white-collar workers in particular who are regular users of the Internet, to have to deal with unwanted phone calls and junk e-mails.

With the Internet playing an increasingly important role in people's daily lives, such irresponsible management of personal data by some Internet firms will undoubtedly pose a serious threat to the healthy development of e-commerce, as doubts about the safety of online transactions will prevent some people from buying online.

As far as the future development of the Internet-based economy is concerned, the importance of the safety of online information can never be overestimated. Legislation to formulate specific laws on the protection of online information and regulation of cyberspace are long overdue.

Not only do we need such laws, we also need detailed legal interpretations for their implementation, so that they can be enforced to such an extent that those who illegally trade personal information for personal gain will receive the punishment they deserve. And those who illegally sell the technology to intercept online information or decypher encrypted information should also be brought to justice.

The legal codes should be made as detailed as possible to deal with every conceivable kind of online crime. And they also need to be revised if necessary if any loopholes are found to need plugging.

Only with a set of legal codes that act as a deterrent and with online watchdogs that not only bark but also bite will we be able to expect a safe online environment, where people can really enjoy the convenience the Internet provides.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 12/26/2012 page10)