Two Sessions Data Privacy

Tech CEOs Voice Privacy Concerns, Propose Compulsory Coding Courses in China's Two Sessions

Aron Chen

posted on May 27, 2020 10:22 pm

After a rare delay forced by the Covid-19 pandemic, Chi­na’s top leg­isla­tive bod­ies are finally in session.

China's National People's Congress (NPC), and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), collectively known as the Two Sessions, kicked off their annual meetings on May 21. 

Despite the former, being the actual legislative body of China and mostly consisting of the elitist Communist Party members across the country, the latter, as a political advisory body, has been fulfilling its purpose too, providing a stream of diversified policy advices. 

Among members of the CPPCC are a number of China's tech CEOs, who have gathered enormous wealth building successful companies in the largely walled-off internet sectors, and are now trying to converting their industrial significance gained along the way into political influence, through announcing a slew of proposals that are mostly inline with the country's direction spearheaded by the Communist Party.

Their proposals this years covers buzzword topics including everything from artificial intelligence, smart transportation, to blockchain and data privacy, reflecting not only the current situation for the sectors they dominate, but also business outlooks for the whole industry.

Setting up an appropriate approach for personal data protection has been a hot topic during this year's two sessions. Robin Li, CPPCC member and CEO of Baidu, proposed that the Chinese government strengthen the management of the collection and protection of personal data, citing the fact that data collection during Covid-19 pandemic has triggered public concern.

Governments from top to bottom have been gathering and analyzing citizen's data by forcing them to use health codes, a QR code-based digital ID, in order to use public transport and enter public premises like shopping malls and hospitals, in an attempt to detect high-risk individuals and curb the spread of the coronavirus. In some occasions, citizens are also required to hand over or demonstrate their recent travel history when passing security checkpoints. 

As the pandemic has nearly come to a close in China, people began expressing their concern for possible data leaks and abuse. In his proposal to the CPPCC, Li suggested that relevant regulatory bodies should set up an opt-out mechanism to allow citizens to have their personal information gathered during Covid-19 deleted or archived. 

How the proposal is to be received by the government remains to be seen, since the government would has more incentives retaining and keep using those data to ramp up the effort in building a more competent big data system to more efficiently manage citizens post-pandemic.

Li's proposal joined forces with that of Lian Yuming's. As Director of the International Institute of Urban Development, Beijing, and another CPPCC member, Lian pointed out that there were too many data collecting parties that could become loose ends of data security, and urged China's personal information protection laws to regulate data collection done by government entities.

Ding Lei, CEO of NetEase, one of China's largest internet companies, proposed to the CPPCC to add computer science into China’s compulsory basic education curriculum.

Ding urged Ministry of Education list computer programming as a basic course, which has a continuous curriculum and academic examinations from elementary to senior high school. 

Under his proposal, students would need to pass tests to demonstrate certain level of programming skill in order to enroll in higher education.

China currently lacks full-time computer science educators since those who qualified would prefer getting decently-paid jobs at tech companies. "At present, China lacks talents, and a national training system is yet to be established,” said Ding.

Continuing the remote-learning trend established during Covid-19 could be a temporary fix, according to Ding, who added that this would also help democratize education by allowing students in less-developed regions to access higher quality learning experiences through online education platforms.

Lei Jun, co-founder and CEO of Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi and and 2-term NPC delegate, advocated this year for China to commit to developing satellite internet, and build nation-wide disaster early warning systems with smart devices, among other things in his four proposals.

Specifically, Lei proposed that the government should continue to lower the satellite internet sector's entry barrier to privately owned companies, encouraging all forms of early-stage investments to boost the private aerospace industry.