Taiwan is trying to put some teeth into a new law aimed at combating cyberbullying and cyberstalking, among other things. Pundits are already saying that the age of information liability will have truly begun here when the Revised Personal Data Protection Act (個人資料保護法) takes effect early next year. According to Benjamin Chiang (江逸之), writing in the Chinese-language CommonWealth magazine, the “strict new stipulations will put virtually everyone in Taiwan at risk of unknowingly breaching the Personal Data Protection Act, with possible [large] fines.”
When it was first introduced, the act applied only to eight industries, according to Chiang, but the revised act applies now to all industries and individuals in Taiwan. In particular, cyberbullying and cyberstalking (and cyberflaming — the tarnishing of a reputation online) will no longer go unpunished, and things such 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.
The new regulations will also give lawyers some important new ways to combat abuse of the Internet. Other countries, including the US and nations in Europe, might want to study Taiwan’s preparations.
In addition to cyberbullying, such things as “human flesh hunting” — a term coined originally in China (ren-rou sou-suo, literally, “people meat hunting”) and a growing phenomenon worldwide — will be seen as a violation of the revised act. This is where groups collectively investigate, expose and sometimes harass individuals perceived as doing wrong, and entails the unauthorized posting of private information on the Internet “in the name of justice.”
Given the provisions of the act, lawyers representing people who try to fight cyberbullying and cyberstalking will have more artillery in their arsenals to fight such cybercrimes. Even flaming other people in forums and blogs will be subject to legal action, if those flamed wish to press charges.
All this is a good thing. For too long, the Internet has gone unchecked and unmoderated, allowing anyone to post almost anything about almost anyone else online, without fear of repercussions or legal action. Now the laws here against cyberbullying will have teeth, and cyberstalkers and forum flamers will not be able to operate freely anymore. While the Internet at first was seen as a magic wonderland of convenience and free communication, it has become a monster as well.
To give an example, a female law professor at a national university recently sued 100 people over what she termed “Web insults.” The professor was the target of hundreds of flames and cyberattacks after she appeared on a TV show last spring arguing for the abolition of the death penalty in Taiwan.
The professor’s televised remarks triggered angry online criticism, with some people saying things like: “There is a hole in her brain,” “you are retarded” and “moron professor.”
Those were the nice remarks. One cyberbully wrote to her: “I hope your daughter gets raped and killed late at night.”
According to a recent Taipei Times article, the law professor filed lawsuits against 31 people in May and sued 69 more in the summer.
Media reports said that many of the people who insulted her were highly educated, with about 50 people already called in and questioned by investigators. And this has transpired even before the new regulations go into effect next year.
If the Personal Data Protection Act has any legal teeth and can be enforced, online cyberbullying and insults might become a thing of the past in this country. Then again, lawyers might fight the law, too.
Dan Bloom is a US writer based in Taiwan.
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