It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that new regulations in China are ripe for power trips and abuse. According to the South China Morning Post, the country has established new guidelines that allow police to collect and authenticate any type of electronic data to be used as evidence in court proceedings. Additionally, they are able to freeze any personal online accounts for more than six months as part of their investigations. The new guidelines become effective on February 1.
The move comes just over two years after China’s supreme court, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and state prosecutors began allowing electronic data as evidence in court. The MPS published the guidelines this past Wednesday amidst an increase of police control and powers in the country. The same ministry announced last week that police officers can no longer be held liable for damaging property during the performance of their responsibilities.
Remote and online retrieval of electronic data is now permitted. In some cases, the processes could be recorded on video, such as with any allegations of endangerment of public or national security. Electronic data can also be frozen by the police if approval is given by the public security department and the same data, if collected by other government departments in the enforcement of their duties, is also admissible as evidence in criminal cases.
The MPS asserts that the new guidelines are necessary to ensure the quality of evidence retrieved during investigations. It adds that the framework also provides the technical standards needed to allow uniform collection of data.
The decision to update the state’s policies come as the country is dealing with an increase in cybercrime. China reportedly has over 750 million Internet users and asserts that there has been an explosion in the amount of online gambling, illegal sales of personal data, terrorism activity and fraud. Police officers have had a difficult time producing electronic evidence that could be authenticated in court and the new guidelines hope to overcome those challenges.
The changes are cause for concern among the country’s population. As Xie Yangyi, a Chinese criminal lawyer, points out, “The evidence collection system is a very important part of criminal litigation that requires solid backing from the legislation. It is a dangerous move for the Ministry of Public Security to self-authorise power in a regulation that upsets the balance of investigation, prosecution, trial and defence in criminal litigation and violates personal rights in privacy, free speech and information.”