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Disclosing Chinese Judgments: Infringing Personal Privacy or Not?

Sun, 13 Feb 2022
Categories: Insights

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Key takeaways:

  • Diverging views among Chinese local courts are expressed on the question of whether the disclosure of Chinese judgments infringes the privacy of the parties.
  • As indicated in Yi v. Suzhou Berta Data Technology Co., Ltd. (2019), although the parties cannot control the disclosure of judgments by the court, they can control the reposting or dissemination by third parties, because the right of personal information has a higher priority than the potential property rights arising from the circulation of personal information that has been legally disclosed.

Does the disclosure of Chinese judgments infringe the privacy of the parties? In June 2020, a judgment of a court in Suzhou revealed its positive answer to this question. However, in April 2021, a court in Beijing expressed the opposite view in a very similar case.

So, Chinese courts hold different views on this.

Previously, we have introduced the case Liang v. Huifa Zhengxin Technology Co., Ltd. (2021), in which the Beijing court said “No”. For a detailed discussion, please read an earlier post “Does Disclosure of Chinese Court Judgment Infringe Personal Privacy?”.

This post will introduce the case that the Suzhou court said “Yes”, that is, Yi v. Suzhou Berta Data Technology Co., Ltd. (2019) Su 05 Min Zhong No. 4745) ((2019)苏05民终4745号)

In this case, the defendant published the court judgments involving the plaintiff on its website, and the plaintiff claimed that the defendant had infringed its personality right related to personal information.

I. Case background

The defendant Suzhou Berta Data Technology Co., Ltd. (hereinafter “Berta”) is a private company, and operates a website called "qixinbao" (启信宝, available at: https://www.qixin.com/). The defendant provides enterprise credit information inquiry service to the public through this website.

The website will display some information about a company for free, such as judgments of relevant lawsuits. After attracting users through such free information, the defendant will provide users with paid premium services.

In 2017, the defendant reposted three judgments on the China Judgments Online and the announcement on the People's Court Announcement on its website. Anyone can search and query the above documents on this website.

The plaintiff Yi is a party to the case of the above documents. The above legal documents respectively describe the four disputes involving Yi.

The China Judgments Online and the People's Court Announcement China are websites under the Supreme People's Court of China, with an aim to disclose the courts’ judgments and relevant documents to the public.

The plaintiff was dissatisfied with the disclosure of its information and argued that the defendant had violated its personality right related to personal information.

Therefore, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit with the People's Court of Suzhou Industrial Park (hereinafter "the first-instance court"), requiring the defendant to delete the court's judgments on its website and compensate for its losses incurred thereby.

The first-instance court supported the plaintiff's main claim. After the defendant appealed to the Suzhou Intermediate People's Court (hereinafter "the second-instance court"), the second-instance court upheld the judgment of the first-instance court.

II. Court views

1. Views of the first-instance court

The first-instance court held that the defendant violated the plaintiff's rights by publishing court judgments involving the plaintiff's personal information. In its view:

(1) Any organization or individual that needs to obtain the personal information of others shall obtain the same according to law and ensure information security. It shall neither illegally collect, use, process or transmit others’ personal information, nor illegally buy, sell, provide or disclose others’ personal information.

(2) The defendant reposted the legal documents involved in the case for profit neither with the authorization of the organizer of China Judgments Online and the People's Court Announcement China, nor with the consent of the parties concerned. Therefore, its conduct has constituted an illegal use of others’ personal information.

(3) The illegal use by Berta will improperly expand the scope of the dissemination of the parties' personal information.

Accordingly, the first-instance court held that the defendant had violated the plaintiff's right to personal information.

2. Views of the second-instance court

The second-instance court supported the judgment of the first-instance court and further provided its reasons therefor.

In its judgment, the second-instance court held that in the process of case hearing, it organized and held several demonstration meetings attended by deputies to local People's Congress, members of the CPPCC’s local committee, experts and scholars, and representatives of judges of primary courts within its jurisdiction.

During the meetings, the attendees discussed the case under the obligation of keeping the information of the parties confidential. However, the second-instance court did not specify which views in its judgment came from the demonstration meeting.

The second-instance court held that:

(1) It is legal for the defendant to collect and republish the public information of the plaintiff

The judgments involving the plaintiff's personal information have been legally made public by the Supreme People's Court on the Internet.

The defendant collecting the judgments from public channels and republishing the same within its legal business scope belonged to the reasonable use of the legally disclosed information. At this point, the defendant did not infringe the plaintiff's right to personal information.

(2) It is illegal for the defendant to refuse the plaintiff’s request to delete the personal information already disclosed

The refusal of the plaintiff’s request to delete such judgments on the grounds that the judgments had already been made public has constituted an illegal public use of the plaintiff's personal information.

This is because the right of personal information subject to control information dissemination has a higher priority than the potential property rights and interests arising from the circulation of personal information that has been legally disclosed.

The right of personal information subject to control the dissemination of personal information shall not be deprived of due to legal disclosure. The personal information subject still has the right to request the cessation of dissemination of personal information that has been disclosed at any time.

III. Our comments

The local courts in Beijing and Suzhou put forward different views on whether the judgment published by the court can be made public again by a third party.

The court in Beijing held that the information on the judgment documents used by commercial companies comes from the disclosure of authoritative judicial institutions, rather than the authorization of individuals. If the data disclosed by open justice cannot be reposted or used by other subjects in the society, on the one hand, it would damage the open justice system, the public’s right to know, the right to supervision, and other public interests protected by the system; on the other hand, The above-mentioned data will be exclusively monopolized by judicial organs, which is inconsistent with the principle that judicial data is publicly owned and shared. Therefore, other data users may reuse the data disclosed under certain conditions.

Therefore, a third party’s use of the judgment does not violate the prohibitive provisions of the law, nor does it violate the public order or good morals, and thus it is legitimate to some extent.

However, the court in Suzhou held otherwise. It believes that the parties' control over personal information takes precedence over the necessity of taking the judgment as public information and spreading it around. Although the parties cannot control the disclosure of judgments by the court, they can control the reposting or dissemination by third parties.

This again proves our view in our previous post: Chinese courts are still carefully searching for the answer to this question.

 

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

 

Contributors: Guodong Du 杜国栋 , Meng Yu 余萌

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