How China's first-ever civil code protects personal information

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Jihong Chen
Zhong Lun, Beijing

Yun Luo
Zhong Lun, Beijing


On 28 May 2020, the thirteenth National People’s Congress passed China’s first-ever Civil Code, incorporating an individual chapter of privacy rights and personal information protection that stipulates the definitions, principles, and rights and responsibilities regarding personal information.

Article 1032 gives definition to privacy rights for the first time in China’s legislation, stating that a natural person shall enjoy the right to privacy. No organisation or individual may infringe upon the right to privacy of any other person by spying, invading, harassing, or disclosing or publishing relevant information by any other means. Under Article 1034, where confidential information is included in personal information, the relevant provisions on the right to privacy shall apply; if no provisions are available, the provisions on personal information protection shall apply.

Articles 1034–1038 illustrates the definitions, principles, and responsibilities of personal information processing. Under Article 1035, ‘processing of personal information’ is a broad concept that includes, et al, the collection, storage, use, processing, transmission, provision, and disclosure of personal information. Article 1037 confers personal information rights to the natural person; and Article 1038 defines the ‘dos and don’ts’ for those who process personal information.

In addition, the Civil Code also stipulate some exemptions. Under Article 999, persons who carry out news reporting or public opinion supervision for public interest may make reasonable use of the personal name, name, portrait or personal information of a civil subject. Article 1036 exempts the personal information processor from civil liability under three circumstances: (1) in acts performed reasonably within the scope agreed by the natural person or his or her guardian; (2) the reasonable processing of information made public by the natural person himself or herself or other information that has been legally made public, unless the natural person explicitly refuses to do so or deals himself/herself with the circumstance where such information infringes upon his or her major interests; or (3) other reasonable acts performed to protect the public interests or the legitimate rights and interests of the natural persons.

At the same time the Civil Code was promulgated, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress announced the legislative plan of the Personal Information Protection Law and the Data Security Law. The Civil Code is expected to be a milestone in the establishment of China’s data and personal information protection system.

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