China's progress and experience in law-based cyberspace governance
By Ji Jing  ·  2023-03-27  ·   Source: NO. 13 MARCH 30, 2023
A staff member showcases an autonomous driving system at the Light of Internet Expo of the 2022 World Internet Conference Wuzhen Summit in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, on November 10, 2022 (XINHUA)
Liu Xuezhou, a 17-year-old from Hebei Province, committed suicide in Sanya, Hainan Province, in January 2022. Liu, who had been sold by his parents at birth, was reunited with them, respectively, in December 2021 and January 2022, only to be abandoned by them again soon after.

Liu posted a long suicide note in the early hours of January 24 last year on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform, then swallowed pills to end his life on a beach in Sanya before dying later in hospital.

In the note, Liu said he was sold at birth by his biological parents, and at the age of 4 his adoptive parents died. After finding his parents, he asked them to buy or rent a house for him, since he had been staying in others' homes. His parents then cut off contact with him, with his mother even blocking him on Weixin, the social platform also known as WeChat.

He explained in the note that he later suffered from cyberbullying after exposing online his conversations with his mother. Many netizens criticized him for repeatedly requesting his parents buying him a house and others judged him by his clothing style, which Liu explained was made up of counterfeit brands which he bought with income from his part-time job.

Liu's death has once again drawn attention to online violence and underlined the urgent need for legislation to prevent and respond to it.

At a press conference explaining a white paper titled China's Law-Based Cyberspace Governance in the New Era on March 16, Li Changxi, an official from the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's top Internet regulator, vowed to make more effort to help create and improve rules concerning cyberbullying.

Since November last year, 28.75 million pieces of information related to cyberbullying have been removed from digital spaces, with holders of 22,000 online accounts being punished for cyberbullying, according to Li. 

There are provisions on cyberbullying in existing laws and judicial interpretations, such as the Civil Code, the Criminal Law and the Law on the Protection of Minors. "However, the effectiveness of the legal system has failed to meet the expectations of the people," he added.

"Therefore, we will focus on establishing and improving relevant regulations and work with other authorities to make the laws in this area more complete," he added.

A policeman instructs residents on how to prevent telecom fraud in Huaibei, Anhui Province, on October 28, 2021(XINHUA)

Improved legislation 

China has formed a cyber legislation framework with the Constitution as the foundation, supported by laws, administrative regulations, departmental rules, local regulations and local administrative rules, according to the aforementioned white paper, which was released by the State Council Information Office.

"Since 1994, when China became fully connected to the Internet, it has accelerated legislation of cyberspace and introduced more than 140 relevant laws," Cao Shumin, Vice Minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, said at the press conference.

This system of laws on cyberspace governance provides a strong institutional guarantee for building up China's strength in cyberspace, the paper said.

Yue Zhongming, an official at the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, said some existing laws such as the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, Food Safety Law, Law Against Unfair Competition and Anti-Monopoly Law were also revised to protect consumers' rights in online transactions, clarify online platforms' responsibilities for food safety and deal with unfair competition and monopoly in cyberspace, Yue said.

One of the most high-profile cases involving violation of the Anti-Monopoly Law was the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) using it to fine e-commerce giant Alibaba Group 18.23 billion yuan ($2.65 billion) in April 2021. The market regulator concluded after a four-month investigation that Alibaba had been abusing its market dominance since 2015 by prohibiting merchants from opening stores or participating in promotional activities on competitors' platforms. The SAMR said Alibaba's requirement hampered competition among online retail platforms, infringed on the rights of the merchants, and hurt consumers' interests.

A people-centered approach 

The white paper said China adopts a people-centered approach to law-based cyberspace governance. China protects people's rights and interests in cyberspace, and fully respects netizens' right to express ideas and exchange views.

"The constant development of Internet technologies has given rise to many unprecedented legal problems. Under such circumstances, we should put people first in legislation and give priority to protecting people's rights online," Lin Wei, Vice President of the University of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Central Television. 

For instance, in June last year, the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) called on judicial departments at multiple levels to crack down on criminal activities involving industry "insiders" leaking the personal information of Internet users.

In many cases, the leakage of personal information is caused by those in charge of its collection, storage, analysis and maintenance. Access to such information gives telephone and online fraudsters the information they need to better identify and deceive their victims.

Statistics from the SPP indicate that more than 9,800 people were charged with infringing on citizens' personal information in 2021, an increase of 64 percent compared with the year before; more than 500 people working in telecommunications, banking, insurance, real estate, hotel, property management and logistics industries were punished for taking advantage of their position to leak citizens' personal information and profit from the practice.

With stronger domestic capacity in law-based Internet governance, the paper noted that China has contributed ideas and solutions to global Internet governance.

China has played an active role in promoting connections, understanding and mutual trust in the rule of law in cyberspace between different countries.

Every year since 2014, China has hosted the World Internet Conference, attended by representatives from governments, international organizations, companies in the industry, think tanks, industry associations and technology communities. The organizing committee of the conference launched the Initiative on Jointly Building a Community With a Shared Future in Cyberspace, proposing that "international exchanges and cooperation should be advanced in the fields of data security, personal information protection and relevant rules and standards, and efforts should be made to promote mutual recognition among countries on rules and standards on personal information protection in line with the purposes of the UN Charter."

(Print Edition Title: Not a Lawless Land) 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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