Hong Kong: China Issues Interpretations On Criminal Offenses Involving Infringement Of Citizens' Personal Information

Last Updated: 22 May 2017
Article by Gabriela Kennedy and Xiaoyan Zhang
Most Read Contributor in Hong Kong, November 2018

On 9 May 2017, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate of China issued rules that offer a clarification of the scope of criminal sanctions for breaches involving personal information in the form of Interpretations on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Handling of Criminal Cases Involving Infringement of Citizens' Personal Information ("Interpretations"). The Interpretations shed light on the scope of the offence of "infringement of citizens' personal information" provided by Article 253 of the PRC Criminal Law. The Interpretations will come into force on 1 June 2017, the same date as the effective date of the PRC Cybersecurity Law (CSL) which was released on 7 November last year.

Specifically, Article 253 of the PRC Criminal Law (amended in 2015) imposes criminal sanctions on anyone who, in violation of relevant State rules, sells or discloses the personal information of third parties. The sanctions imposed by the statute vary depending on the seriousness of the circumstances of the violation. "Serious" circumstances attract prison sentences of no more than three years and/or a fine. "Extremely serious" circumstances see the penalties increased to three to seven years imprisonment, plus a fine. The sale or disclosure of personal information obtained in the course of conducting professional duties or providing services (such as postal services) attracts penalties at the harsher end of the spectrum.

The Interpretations provide much needed definitions to several key terms of Article 253. For example, "personal information" is defined to cover two types of information recorded through electronic or other means namely: i) any information that can be used alone or in combination with other information, to identify a natural person; and ii) any information reflecting the special characteristics of the activities of a natural person. The definition appears broader than the one provided by the CSL which was limited to the first category.

The Interpretations also clarify that "disclosure of personal information" punishable by Article 256 refers to acts of providing personal information to others without the consent of the data subjects. This term further covers acquisition of personal information through illegitimate means or during the course of performing duties and providing services. However, personal information that has been de-identified and cannot be traced back to an individual is excluded.

The criteria for the imposition of penalties is clarified in the Interpretations. For example, criminal detention or a fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, concurrently or separately with a fine, shall be imposed if one of the following "serious" circumstances applies:

  • sale or provision of data pertaining to geographic location which is used by others to commit a crime;
  • sale or provision of the personal information with actual or imputed knowledge that others would use the personal information to commit a crime;
  • illegal procurement, sale or provision of more than 50 pieces of information concerning geographic location, content of correspondence, credit history, and financial assets of an individual;
  • illegal procurement, sale or provision of more than 500 pieces of information concerning records of accommodation or correspondence, health, transaction, or other personal data that may affect the safety or any property/assets of an individual;
  • illegal procurement, sale, or provision of more than 5,000 pieces of personal information concerning other information of an individual other than above;
  • the amount of information does not meet any of the requirements above, but the cumulative quantity of data alone meets the threshold imposed by the statute;
  • the illegal income derived from the provision of data exceeds RMB 5,000 (about US$722);
  • sale or provision of personal information acquired in the course of conducting business or providing services, and the data involved exceeds half of the quota specified above;
  • the person committing the offence has been sentenced based on criminal or administrative charges for infringing provisions relating to personal information in the past two years;
  • any other circumstances.

Anyone who illegally purchases or obtains personal information in the course of their business shall be deemed to be violating Article 253 as well provided that the amount of illegal income exceeds RMB 50,000 (about US$7,221) or the person has been convicted of similar violations in the past two years.

The violations would be deemed "extremely serious" if the above acts lead to serious consequences such as death or significant economic losses, or when the amount of personal information involved exceeds more than 10 times the amount of any of the thresholds provided for "serious" circumstances. Extremely serious crimes shall attract sentences of a fixed-term imprisonment of three to seven years plus a fine.

Finally, Article 9 of the Interpretations imposes new obligations on network service providers. Any network service provider who fails to manage the security of information networks as provided by law and relevant administrative regulations and refuses to make corrections as ordered by regulatory authorities causing serious breaches of personal information shall be sentenced to criminal detention or fixed-term imprisonment of no more than three years, concurrently or separately sentenced to a fine pursuant to Article 286 of the PRC Criminal Law. Note that the CSL regulates network operators which are defined to include network service providers and, in addition, owners or administrators of networks.

The CSL has numerous enforcement provisions targeting operators of critical information infrastructures and network operators for violations of CSL specific obligations and duties such as the controversial data localisation governing "personal information" and "important data". The Interpretations serve as a strong companion to the CSL and address enforcement measures targeted specifically at breaches of obligations in relation to personal information, with arguably a clearer focus on the protection of citizens' privacy rights.

Visit us at www.mayerbrownjsm.com

Mayer Brown is a global legal services organization comprising legal practices that are separate entities (the Mayer Brown Practices). The Mayer Brown Practices are: Mayer Brown LLP, a limited liability partnership established in the United States; Mayer Brown International LLP, a limited liability partnership incorporated in England and Wales; Mayer Brown JSM, a Hong Kong partnership, and its associated entities in Asia; and Tauil & Chequer Advogados, a Brazilian law partnership with which Mayer Brown is associated. "Mayer Brown" and the Mayer Brown logo are the trademarks of the Mayer Brown Practices in their respective jurisdictions.

© Copyright 2016. The Mayer Brown Practices. All rights reserved.

This article provides information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest. The foregoing is not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed herein. Please also read the JSM legal publications Disclaimer.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions