On January 9, 2008, in a case of first impression in China, the Beijing Haidian District People’s Court issued a ruling against Li Guo, a lawyer who sued the largest Chinese language Internet search engine company, Baidu.com (Baidu), and a domain hosting service provider, HiChina.com (HiChina), over alleged violations of his privacy caused by the disclosure in an online search result of the content of a personal e-mail message he sent.
Li Guo claimed that a hosting program run by HiChina received his e-mail, mistakenly indexed it, and that the same e-mail was later picked up and appeared in a search result posted by Baidu. Li Guo demanded RMB1 million yuan ($137,500) in damages for his emotional suffering caused by the public disclosure of his e-mail message.
Both HiChina and Baidu presented evidence that they had not violated any laws. HiChina provided evidence demonstrating that it had installed the linked-forbidden ROBOTS protocol in its root directory, per standard industry practice. HiChina also demonstrated that it employed lengthy URL string functioning as a password to assure the security of e-mail, a practice in compliance with China’s national technical standard. Baidu established that the purpose of its search engine service is to automatically extract and collect all types of information from the Internet that is available. As such, Baidu argued that, in the absence of evidence demonstrating that it obtained the e-mail in bad faith, its actions were not improper.
The court ruled against Li Guo on the grounds that the incident amounted to an “unusual disclosure” devoid of nefarious intent. Without addressing the direct cause of the disclosure, the court found a lack of evidence that the two defendants violated Guo Li's privacy or intended to harm him by compromising his privacy.
It has been reported that Li Guo intends to appeal the decision.
To date, China has not enacted specific laws or regulations that address privacy and the protection of personal information. China’s rapidly developing economy coupled with changes to the country’s outlook regarding the protection of individual rights are expected to make it increasingly likely that suits similar to Li Gou’s will arise in the future. Considerable attention has been paid by China’s government agencies, legal experts and citizens to this lawsuit. In fact, it has been reported that this case may have prompted Chinese legislative authorities to accelerate the drafting of new laws and regulations to better protect personal data and privacy. However, the scope of those new laws and regulations, and the precise impact they will have on Chinese commerce and privacy, remain unclear.