China to improve data security, vaccine standards

National People's Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui speaks at a press conference a day before the opening of the annual session of China's parliament, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on March 4, 2019.
National People's Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui speaks at a press conference a day before the opening of the annual session of China's parliament, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on March 4, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

China has laid out its legislative calendar for the next four years, with a focus on quality-of-life and technology-related issues.

Key highlights this year include plans to improve vaccine standards and beef up personal information protection following major scandals last year.

China will accelerate legislation to safeguard its people's livelihoods, including a draft vaccine management law and an amendment to its Drug Administration Law, Mr Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People's Congress, which is China's Parliament, told reporters yesterday.

The draft laws propose more stringent inspections of vaccine production, a system that can trace the entire supply chain, as well as much tougher penalties for those who produce or sell counterfeit or sub-par drugs.

Last October, Chinese vaccine maker Changchun Changsheng was fined 9.1 billion yuan (S$1.8 billion) after the authorities found it had fabricated data for over 110,000 rabies vaccines.

It was China's third vaccine scandal in as many years.

Acknowledging that China's fast-evolving Internet economy has led to rights violations, Mr Zhang said Beijing will also strengthen laws to protect personal data.

Chinese Internet users have long been seen as willing to give up personal data for conveniences and perks, but rising concern over online fraud is changing people's attitudes towards data protection.

Notable data breaches last year include the theft of personal data of nearly five million people from China Railway's official online booking platform 12306, as well as data leaks from food delivery giants Ele.me and Meituan Dianping.

"With the rapid development of network IT technology and the digital economy, incidents in which citizens' rights and interests have been infringed due to improper collection, misuse and disclosure of personal information have occurred," Mr Zhang said.

While existing laws, such as those covering cyber security and consumer protection, touch on different aspects of data protection, they are currently scattered and will be unified under a draft Personal Information Protection Law, he said.

In the longer term, Beijing is also looking at how it can proactively formulate laws to guide the development of cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Mr Zhang said "strategic technology" will spearhead the next round of industrial transformation, but will also bring new challenges in the areas of law, ethics and social governance.

The government has thus undertaken a number of research projects to see how it can "provide a strong rule of law for the innovation and development of artificial intelligence", he said.

"On the one hand, we must vigorously promote the development and application of artificial intelligence technology," he added. "On the other hand, we must strengthen proactive, preventive and restraint guidance to ensure safety and control."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'China to improve data security, vaccine standards'. Print Edition | Subscribe