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'Human Flesh Search' a crime?
Updated: 2008-08-27 15:13

Chinese netizens are using the Internet to expose information about people they think deserve no privacy. But lawmakers have slated them for going too far.

Legislators in Beijing suggested Monday that people should bear criminal responsibility for undertaking a "human flesh search," a term referring to any massive online search and spread of an individual's private information.

Zhu Zhigang, member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, thinks that careless exposure of privacy amounts to an infringement of a citizen's rights.

A "human flesh search" is usually triggered by an online story, photo or video which suggests reckless behavior without specific details.

It first surfaced in 2006 when tens of thousands of netizens responded a call to locate a woman who was seen in a video stabbing a kitten with her high heels.

After only one week, information of the woman was available online. Wang Jue, a 41-year-old nurse in Heilongjiang Province, was later suspended from her job.

Following Wang, a number of people have become targets of the search, which saw a peak this year. According to Xinhua news agency, they included a husband whose wife committed suicide because of his betrayal, and a girl who called the deadly Sichuan earthquake "interesting."

Some of these people have received cursing or even threatening messages, according to Xinhua.

Opinions differ though, as Chen Xue, vice director of the law school at South China Normal University, thinks that a "human flesh search" is not a crime. "It's just like asking your friends about people," Chen told

Lawyer Wang Zhizhu pointed out that publishing a public figure's information is usually not an infringement of privacy. But because a "human flesh search" targets everyday people, it may infringe rights of privacy.

Yet the lawyer noted that there is a difference between publishing one's home address and exposing more private information, such as his bank account. The latter may commit crime while the former may not.