Nov 25, 2011 06:27 PM

Woman Arrested for Selling Information on 150,000 Families

The recent arrest of a woman selling information about 150,000 Shenzhen families has highlighted how Chinese law, in many ways, is still playing catch-up to identity theft in China.

On November 21, Shenzhen police arrested a woman named Liu Mouping for selling information about 150,000 local babies born between June 2010 and August 2011. Liu had 600 pages of documents detailing the hospitals where the children were born, their genders, the names of their mothers as well as their family's contact information.

Liu's personal computer also had customer information on hundreds of thousands of people classified as "homeowners," "car owners," "stockholders," "overweight," or "above the age of 60." 

An employee at the Peking University Shenzhen Hospital told the Yangcheng Evening Post that only the Shenzhen Medical Information Center—which is affiliated with the Shenzhen City Health and Population Family Planning Commission—could have had access to the same baby identity information obtained by Liu. 

According to the Shenzhen Evening Post, about 158,000 babies were born in 2010, meaning Liu had, in all likelihood, obtained the personal identity information for almost all the babies born in the city between August 2010 and July 2011. 

The Shenzhen Medical Information Center has asked the police to conduct an investigation into the matter, its deputy director Luo Yuexuan said. The case is still pending. 

The problem of identity theft has long been a public issue in China, where it is not uncommon for a citizen to receive a phone call about car insurance shortly after purchasing a vehicle, a new homeowner to get offers about furniture, and vice versa. 

Such targeted marketing has inspired representatives at the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference to propose, on multiple occasions, creating a separate set of laws pertaining specifically to identity theft. The proposals, however, have gone nowhere each time.

There is also no separate body of law addressing identity protection, although a single-paragraph amendment to China's criminal law added in February 2009 bans the sale of personal information. Then, in October of this year, the NPC Standing Committee considered amendments to China's Resident Identity Card Law that would fine individuals for illegally obtaining and sharing information. It is unclear if, or when, the law will go into effect.

Others, like National People's Congress representative Sun Guihua, have criticized lax identity protections as a barrier to better trade relations. Many countries in North America and Europe currently ban Chinese companies from collecting customer information when they expand into overseas markets, due to a dearth of domestic consumer protections, Sun told the People's Court Daily in 2008, when she first proposed creating an identity theft law. 

In a People's Daily Online commentary on November 24, a writer named Li Qinglian said specific legal protections are necessary for preventing identity theft.

"In an information society, we cannot stand for violations of the right to privacy," Li wrote. "This needs to happen through specialized personal information legislation, rather than a few simple articles of law."

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