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[CHINA] Campaign of Shame Falls Flat Over Privacy Rights

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  • madchinaman
    Campaign of shame falls flat in China Public humiliation as punishment sets off a debate over individual privacy and the limits of state intrusion. By Mark
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2006
      Campaign of shame falls flat in China
      Public humiliation as punishment sets off a debate over individual
      privacy and the limits of state intrusion.
      By Mark Magnier, Times Staff Writer

      BEIJING — When police in booming Shenzhen organized a parade of 100
      prostitutes, pimps, madams and their customers recently, there was
      little to suggest they were on shaky ground. Not only did it seem
      like a great way to kick off a two-month anti-prostitution campaign,
      the methodology was time-tested: Public shaming has featured
      prominently in China's criminal justice system for thousands of years.

      In show-trial fashion, the shackled defendants were marched through
      Shenzhen's Shazui neighborhood, better known locally as "Mistress
      Village," in government-issue yellow shirts and black pants. Photos
      by local journalists show the women trying to cover their faces at
      the late November event. Any hope of anonymity was soon frustrated
      when police began calling out the names and addresses of each alleged
      offender to a crowd of 1,000 or so, announcing a 15-day sentence and
      ushering them to waiting prison vans.

      The name-and-shame campaign has backfired, however, amid a growing
      social debate over individual privacy and the limits of state

      Within a week, more than 100,000 people had weighed in on the
      Internet, the closest thing to voting in China's one-party state,
      with opinions on the Sina Web portal running 7 to 3 against the

      Several regional state-run papers on their websites condemned the
      move as an ineffective, unacceptable violation of privacy. China has
      vaguely worded language on privacy in its labor, medical and postal
      laws and in the constitution, but implementation is often arbitrary
      at the hands of a traditionally intrusive state. Some Netizens
      questioned the logic of going after little fish while ignoring
      corrupt police and officials protecting the rackets. Lawyers and
      academics called on the National People's Congress to enact tougher
      laws preventing such treatment.

      "The police may have had good intentions, but what they did was
      illegal," said Song Yixin, an attorney with the Shanghai Newhope law
      firm, citing a regulatory change in the 1980s that banned public
      humiliation of suspects. "This is reminiscent of China 20 years ago.
      And to have it happen in as developed a place like Shenzhen is

      Song said the event may have a silver lining by forcing China to
      fundamentally rethink its privacy rights policies, in the same way
      the 2003 police beating death of a graphic designer who was detained
      for not carrying a residence permit forced an overhaul of vagrancy
      and migrant worker rules.

      Public backlash

      As the property-owning middle class has expanded in recent years, the
      public has pushed back on privacy issues.

      Zhejiang province introduced rules this year requiring police to
      obtain permission from higher officials before entering hotel rooms.
      Shanghai's Shixi Primary School was forced to scrap a fingerprint
      monitoring system for students last year in the wake of widespread
      criticism over students' privacy rights. The central government is
      drafting privacy and government disclosure laws.

      Privacy lawsuits, virtually unimaginable in the 1980s, are
      increasingly common. These range from reports of a farmer who sued a
      local hospital in April for plastering his X-rays on hospital
      brochures to those of a 22-year-old single woman who won $1,200 in a
      privacy suit in far western Xinjiang a few years ago after a doctor
      allowed 20 interns to witness her abortion.

      The outcry over privacy issues notwithstanding, China's increasingly
      well-funded, tech-savvy security regime has more resources at its
      disposal than ever before.

      Since the 2003 launch of the government's Gold Shield Program, police
      have collected digital records on 1.25 billion of the nation's 1.3
      billion people, police official Liu Shuo told the official New China
      News Agency this spring. An estimated 30,000 cyber police monitor the
      surfing habits of Internet users. At least 200,000 cameras monitor
      residents in Beijing and Shanghai, with tens of thousands in smaller
      cities, amid plans by many cities to double those numbers within five

      Although most Chinese appear to believe the police and central
      government have their best interests in mind, they're also
      increasingly worried about data leakage by corrupt officials to sales-
      hungry companies. In a nationwide survey in June, the state-run China
      Youth Daily found 91% were worried about misuse of private
      information and 74% in favor of tougher laws.

      Too much information

      Survey respondents expressed shock at how much salespeople knew about
      them, not limited to their names and incomes, but their children's
      birthdays, the direction their apartments faced and their license
      plate numbers. "Even the recently divorced get calls from marital go-
      betweens," the newspaper said, blaming government agencies for the

      The Chinese website Souren, or "personal search," and its competitors
      advertise access to 90 million ordinary people's incomes, marital
      status and other sensitive information for as low as 12 cents per

      In line with society's gradual change in mind-set, police shaming
      campaigns in recent decades have become less common. But China has
      employed shame as a means of social control and crime deterrence for
      most of its history, experts said, extending through the Cultural

      "Shaming was very popular in ancient times with the trip from the
      court to jail to exile all a form of public humiliation," said Chen
      Xiaoming, professor of law at Xiamen University. "Punishment included
      tattooing on a criminal's face and cutting off their feet."

      Tattooing of criminals was highly codified, with certain colors and
      certain parts of the body reserved for specific crimes, historians
      said. Other methods included cutting off noses to engender social
      stigma and tying people up in public with signboards so fellow
      citizens could throw vegetables and other objects at them.

      When the Communist Party took power in 1949, cadres were given broad
      latitude to pry into citizens' lives, dictating how they should
      dress, act and think. At the peak, the state even monitored women's
      menstrual cycles under the one-child campaign.

      Vice capital

      Shenzhen, a fast-paced economic center abutting Hong Kong, has a
      reputation as a vice capital for Hong Kong businessmen with
      mistresses or second wives. At least 10 of those arrested were
      reportedly Hong Kong residents.

      The two-month anti-graft push, which lasts through December, is
      officially known as the Special Campaign to Crack Down on
      Prostitution-Related Crime.

      "It's hard to imagine what the police chief who organized this was
      thinking," said Song, the attorney. "The ignorant aren't afraid of
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