Beijing court deals with cyberspace crimes
A local court in Beijing recently set up a workgroup to deal with cases associated with the Internet as an effort to probe into the legal issues relating to cyberspace.
"The main reason for our action is not because we are inspired by the movie "Matrix" but because Internet crime has turned out to be an increasingly serious problem," said Li Dongmin, a seasoned judge of the People's Court of Haidian, which is in the Zhongguancun area, known as "China's silicon valley."
Li said cyberspace suitcases have been growing at an unbelievable speed. In 1986, China reported only nine such cases and in 2002 over 4,500 were on the record.
"So the workgroup is one of the resolutions to investigate high-tech law breaches and crimes," said Ma Xiurong, a judge with the workgroup, which is made up of less then 10 experienced judges.
Ma heard a case last month, in which an Internet game player sued a host company because his bonus and equipment in the game was stolen. The player's request for economic compensation was supported by the court.
"The player paid time and money for the bonus and equipment, even though they are virtual, and they are valuable to him, so he has the right to claim compensation," Ma said.
She said the bonus, equipment and accounts of some hot Internet games are very popular in the underground market and turn out to be targets for master computer game players.
However, the owners usually can do nothing about the cases because their belongings in cyberspace are not normally considered as real possessions. Furthermore, there is still no special law to protect virtual properties.
"We do have general laws to treat Internet crimes but the Internet application is developing and changing very fast usually beyond the prescription of laws," said Ma, adding that one of the missions of the workgroup was to probe into this field, providing sample cases for lawmaking and hearings.
In 2000, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, approved a bill on maintaining the safety of Internet. The bill and the nation's criminal code, which was amended in 1997, are the two laws that deal with Internet crimes.
Two laws are far from enough even though some government departments have issued regulations to rectify Internet application, said Shou Bu, law professor with Shanghai Jiaotong University.
The current laws and regulations cannot include all the situations on the Internet, which is changing everyday, and so the courts find it difficult to hear cases, the professor said.
According to Prof. Shou, Internet crime had been thought of as computer-based that could only be conducted by high-tech masters. As a result the laws focused on protection of computer hardware, operating systems and communication related to safety of main databases, national security and other issues.
But now there is almost no secret to committing crimes on the Internet and one person can easily get directions from the network if he wants to steal other people's passwords. "It's easy and is happening every moment," he said.
Lawmakers and legal bodies should be flexible and frequently updated if they want to effectively control Internet crime, he said.
Statistics indicate that among all kinds of Internet crimes in the world, only one percent is discovered and just four percent of those will be investigated by police.
China now has over 80 million Internet users, the second largest group in the world, just next to the United States. In 2003 the transaction value of e-commerce in China hit US$60 billion.