Cover of Chinese Cyber Security Law. Credit by Baidu.com
The simmering topic of online security vs. privacy has erupted again in the wake of the Chinese government’s new law requiring Chinese citizens to register their real names and personal information when using the internet to post comments on any platforms.
The topic has always been controversial around the world, with different opinions about striking the right balance between security and privacy.
Chinese officials say the law (中华人民网络安全法) is designed to protect personal information, strengthen online security and prevent online crime.
The situation is far different in the U.S. For instance, a Radio Shack robbery in 2010 drew attention to the topic of privacy and security.
The thieves were caught after robbing a number of Radio Shacks in Detroit, Michigan and Ohio. Ironically, the robbers got caught because their own phones’ data showed their locations.
But the convictions were tossed out. The Supreme Court ruled this year that the prosecutors violated the unreasonable search clause of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
These two stories illustrate internet users’ increasing concern about privacy and security in the digital era. This project will specifically focus on cyber security and online privacy.
National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which in 2008 announced the initiation of the legislative of internet real-name registration. Credit by Baidu.com
Timeline: A summary of the important milestones between 2002 and this year, when China passed legislation requiring a real-name registration system.
Cyber security vs online privacy: Poll shows wide differences of opinion
We conducted a poll of 122 people across Boston, representing people from the age 18 to 64, with many different backgrounds and from more than 20 countries.
This is the main question:
“If the government of your country introduced a real-name registration system, which requires internet users to register their real name and to provide their personal information before using any internet services in order to protect the personal information of internet users and to prevent online crime, will you support it?”
We have three key findings:
1.) Participants between 30 and 50 years old tend to think that online privacy is more important than cyber security, compared with people who are younger or older.
As the graph shows, only two age groups have more than half opposing a real-name registration system. Nearly two-thirds of participants in their 30s group oppose a real-name registration system. About 60% of people in their 40s oppose it. Participants over 50 are more likely to support the change.
2.) Not a big difference between genders
The group was split evenly between males and females. In both groups, more than 50% opposed the hypothetical cyber-security law, showing that both genders consider it important. Female, by a slight margin, opposed it more than the males who were surveyed.
3) Chinese are the most likely to support a cyber-security law
We divided the data based on nationalities into four groups: American, Chinese, Indian and other. The Americans and Indians opposed the law by 63% and 57%, respectively. Among Chinese nationals, 54% supported the law. In the “other” group, the poll results were split evenly.
Cyber security vs online privacy in China: Perspectives on cyber security
To gain a broader perspective about the new Chinese law requiring real name registration, we interviewed Dale A. Herbeck, a professor in the Communication Department at Northeastern University, who specializes in communication law, cyber law, and freedom of expression.
We also spoke with Chinese students, who have been in the U.S., about their feelings about the Chinese law.
Herbeck thinks that in the U.S., anonymity is crucial in American culture. The cyber-security law which requires people to provide their personal information is more likely to be considered as unconstitutional. Also, Herbeck doesn’t support the cyber-security law because, in his opinion, the government should regulate the third party companies that could collect personal information from people instead of regulating individuals. “The key conflict is that how much privacy you would like to give up to live in a secured state,” said Herbeck. Both online privacy and cyber-security are important to Herbeck, but he values privacy more than security, “politically, I would like to have some privacy in the room,” said professor Herbeck.
Haoyan’s friend had the experience of leaking of personal information. different situations in the U.S. compare to in China. Bank information leak could be fixed by the bank very quickly, but slowly in China; support cyber-security law, the government could protect people from others.
Jiwei has the experience of personal information leak on Weibo. But she stays neutral when was asked will she support the law or not. She thinks that online privacy should be protected, but she is also not comfortable with the feeling of being watching even the person is from the government.”Our privacy should be protected in a different way.” said Jiwei.
Based on the data from surveys and interviews, it is clear that people hold different attitudes toward this topic depending on their age, nationality, and experience.
Our findings indicate age is key factor in determining what a person thinks. Gender does not play much of a role, while Chinese participants are more willing to have higher cyber security concerns compared with participants from other countries.
Anonymity and privacy are more important in American culture compared with security, and the government could be one of the threats to people’s privacy, according to Prof. Herbeck. Most Americans are looking for indirect regulation which could protect them, but also leave them some space.
Chinese people are looking for more direct regulation from the government, so they can be better protected.
Although people with different backgrounds may hold different perspectives toward cyber security and online privacy, it is clearly one of the biggest problems worldwide. And as our real world becomes more tightly connected with the digital world, these concerns could be heightened.