Friday, December 19, 2008

First Online Privacy Case Sentenced

On Dec 29th last year, Jiang Yan jumped from 24th floor of her apartment building in Beijing, exhausted and desperate from her husband Wang Fei's extramarital affair with a co-worker Dong Fang. She arranged her MSN Live blog opened by a friend after her death, which contains a letter along information of her husband and his mistress.

A 'network mob' was summoned out of anger and websites were set up to curse the husband and his lover. Soon the two were fired, and the husband was diagnosed with depression.

The case went to trail in Chaoyang Court of Beijing. The man sued websites and won a verdict of RMB Yuan 3,000 ($500) and 5,000 ($800) from two sites, a third site was acquitted because it removed the offending materials in time. The case is significant as it is the first of such in China.

Reading between lines:

1) Network media could be held responsible for privacy violations, even though the information is freely accessible online. The MSN LIve Space Blog authored by Jiang Yan, the original source of the allegedly offending information, has never been shut down. MSN was never named in the lawsuit brought by the husband;
2) Hosting company was not liable as long as they removed the materials posted by its users 'promptly';
3) The fine, $500 for setting up a special column and leaked private information and $800 for setting up a dedicate website contains private information, is hardly a serious punishment by all means;
4) The court made a judicial recommendation to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, suggesting a harsher monitoring system on online speech.

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