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This project studies the current policy-making and governance space around the collection, circulation, utilization, and protection of data in China, with a particular focus on personal data. As data has attained a strategic importance directly concerning national power and security, a study of the data policy and governance space in China not only contributes to a deeper understanding of China’s strategy in this domain but also offers insights to a comparative analysis of the United States’ and China’s approaches to data governance. By identifying the key stakeholders and outlining the social and political spaces that are shaping China’s regulation around personal data, it provides a framework to understand China’s data policy as the contentions and negotiations between state surveillance power and civil rights, as well as between business commercial interests and increasing awareness of privacy of consumers. Paying close attention to the ongoing debate on data rights, media controversies over financial scams, facial recognition, “deepfake” and other issues directly connected with personal data security and privacy, as well as activities by data rights groups and the role of think tanks, this investigation will testify to the increasing awareness of data privacy among Chinese civil society. The existence of such a dynamic governance space suggests the emergence of a technology governance mode that goes beyond the monolithic power of the state. With the China Cybersecurity Law and the recent advancement of a set of regulations and policies surrounding data, and, most importantly, the anticipation of a dedicated Personal Data Protection Law, this project is a timely investigation to understand the motives and forces that drive forward personal data regulation in China, with the ensuing implied questions of whether and how China’s move in this area may impact data policy-making in the United States.

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Xiao Liu

Xiao Liu’s research focuses on the social and cultural history of information technology and digital media in contemporary China. Her research has been sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and other national and international grants. Her first monograph, Information Fantasies: Precarious Mediation in Postsocialist China (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), unearths a heretofore untold history (1978-1989) of the deep engagements of Deng’s China in anticipating the coming of an information society even before the popularization of the internet and the rise of digital economy in China, and thus provides an indispensable historical framework to understand China’s investment and rise in information power today. She has also published multiple peer-reviewed articles in reputable journals such as Grey Room and Social Identities. She is co-editing a special issue of the journal Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies on the topic of (inter-)Asian infrastructures, based on a workshop sponsored by the Social Science Research Council in 2019. Currently during the year of 2019-2020, she is a fellow at the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum working on data-policy related projects with key stakeholders across public and private sectors and the civil society. During her Wilson China Fellowship term, she will be working on a project to study the governance space of personal data in China.