Data Protection Act will give way to Taiwan's age of online liability

When Taiwan’s “Revised Personal Data Protection Act” takes effect in early 2011, one could say that the age of information liability will have truly begun in this democratic island nation.

According to Benjamin Chiang,writing recently in CommonWealth Magazine in Taipei, the “strict new stipulations will put virtually everyone in Taiwan at risk of unknowingly breaching the Personal Data Protection Act, with possible fines of up to US $500,000.”

Before the revisions, the Personal Data Protection Act applied only to eight specific industries, Chiang noted in his report, but the revised act applies now to all industries and every individual in Taiwan.

In particular, cyberbullying and cyberstalking (and cyberflaming) will no longer go unpunished, and such things as posting an article or photo of someone else on the internet or in a personal blog will be considered,under the law, to be ”leaking” personal data, if the person concerned has not given his or her approval.

In adddition, such things as “human flesh hunting” — a term coined in Chinese (”ren-rou sou-suo,” literally, people meat hunting) a growing phenomenon worldwide in which groups collectively investigate, expose and sometimes harass individuals perceived of wrongdoing, and which entail the unauthorised posting of private information on the internet “in the name of justice,” will be seen under the new law to be a violation of the Personal Data Protection Act.

Those who engage in “human flesh search” campaigns to expose others over the internet – and in so  reveal the contact information of people online without permission – will be subject to legal action.

For example, once the act is enforced, it won’t be a good idea to post articles or photos of other people anywhere online without their express permission. According to Chiang,”if the content of articles or photos posted on the internet pertains to other persons, they must be notified and asked for prior approval.”

Given the provisions of the act, lawyers representing people who try to fight cyberbullying and cyberstalking will have have more artillery in their arsenals. Even flaming other people in forums and blogs will be subject to legal action. If those flamed wish to press charges they can go ahead, according to sources in the legal field.

All this is a good thing. For too long, the internet has gone unchecked and unmoderated, allowing anyone to post anything about anyone else online.

With fear of repercussions or legal action the laws against cyberbullying will have teeth and cyberstalkers and forum flamers will not be able to operate freely anymore.

In related news, a female law professor at a national university has issued a statement to 100 people over what she calls “Web insults.” It turns out that professor Ying-chieh Lu was the target of hundreds of flames and cyberattacks after she appeared on a TV show arguing for the abolishment of the death penalty in Taiwan.

The professor’s remarks on TV triggered angry online criticism, with some people saying things like:  “There is a hole in her brain,” “You are a retarded” and “moron professor.” Those were the nice remarks.

One cyberbully wrote: “I hope your daughter gets raped and killed late at night.”

According to the Taipei Times, Professor Lu filed slander lawsuits against 31 people in May and sued 69 more people later this summer. Police told reporters that many of the people who insulted Lu online were highly-educated teachers and university professors, with some 50 people already questioned by investigators.

Police said two people with PhDs sued by Lu have already settled out of court.

If the new Personal Data Protection Act, which is to take effect in early 2011 in Taiwan, has any teeth and can be enforced, online cyberbullying and insults might be seen in another light.