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Leaked info spawns ruthless telemarketers, fraud

http://english.hebei.com.cn  2012-12-17 16:11

  If you've ever used a bank, hospital, telecom office or hotel in China, chances are your personal information has already been intentionally leaked to at least one third-party company.

  Such easy access, often by unauthorized individuals, to personal information has given rise to a plague of obnoxious calls and spam messages from telemarketers, according to Xinmin Weekly magazine.

  Mr. Gu, a Shanghai resident who has sought treatment at several clinics that specialize in male fertility issues, now receives frequent calls pushing him to buy drugs for erectile dysfunction and impotence.

  The frustrated Gu says he's eager to file a lawsuit, but isn't sure exactly who to go after. The Chinese legal system does little, if anything, to inspire confidence.

  The public sector is our main source of personal information, says Han Bing, head of a private investigation company since 2005. Although China forbids private investigation agencies, Han says many of them are registered as "consulting" firms and play an important role in obtaining evidence for civil cases.

  Although illegal methods such as wiretapping and data hacking are sometimes required, Han says he can get almost any information from any organization without such measures. Hotel check-in records, individual phone logs, medical histories, bank accounts: it's all easy pickings, he says.

  Once you have an agent planted on the inside, you can get anything, he adds in an ominous tone.

  Many people think private investigators are all like Sherlock Holmes, but most of us are not professional at all; these days we're more accurately described as "personal information brokers," he says.

  Since last April, China's Ministry of Public Security has for the first time launched a nationwide crackdown on the theft or misuse of personal information. Hundreds of data trading "sources" have been uncovered, many of which were private investigation agencies like Han's, writes Xinmin Weekly.

  Authorities have also determined that government departments, commercial organizations, financial institutions and couriers are the root sources of most info leaks. That's because employees at such places often have easy, if unauthorized, access to customer information.

  In August, Shanghai police smashed an info-trading ring that had illegally stored and sold the personal details of numerous individuals. The organization, comprised of 48 people, was charged with divulging nearly 200 million pieces of private data.

  The ring leader later disclosed in court that more than ten commercial organizations had given him personal information that should have been protected. Insurance companies were his regular and loyal customers, he testified.

  Moreover, beginning last February Shanghai police began receiving dozens of calls requiring immediate investigation into a string of erratic personal bank account transactions. Authorities later discovered that four bank employees had been selling the credit information of their clients.

  According to Xinmin Weekly, Chinese bank account details are routinely leaked and sold, a problem that has much to do with lax regulations and easy access to client databases.

  The most serious cases have involved leaks of Chinese economic data used for insider trading. When stock markets behave suspiciously before the release of statistics, for example, the possibility of high-level leaks can be particularly troublesome for the government.

  Though China has punishments for those found guilty of leaking personal information, it has not established a comprehensive data protection system, reports Xinmin Weekly.

  Under Chinese law, personal information is still a vague concept, explains Zhang Jun, a lawyer specializing in privacy protection. Several years ago, most people considered telephone numbers private, but now they tend to give them out freely, he says.

  Because of this, personal data leaks will be hard to stop. In this respect, the government has a responsibility to craft solid regulations and gradually set up an effective system of supervision, says Zhang.


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