Contact Tracing and Right to Privacy: A Comparative Law Research in China and Singapore
By Alex Zhang and Andrea Levan
Alex Zhang is the Archibald C. and Frances Fulk Rufty Research Professor of Law, Associate Dean of Information Services, and Director of the J. Michael Goodson Law Library at the Duke University School of Law. Alex's research interests include legal information and technology, law library management, knowledge management, open access to information, and Chinese law and research. Her articles have appeared in scholarly journals such as Legal Information Management, Law Library Journal, International Journal of Legal Information, and Chinese Journal of Comparative Law. She is a co-editor of Global Animal Law Research (Carolina Academic Press, 2022). Featuring 12 research experts specializing in the U.S., foreign, international, and comparative law research, Global Animal Law Research collects these experts' perspectives, knowledge, and experiences researching various animal rights and welfare topics. Global Animal Law Research received the 2022 Reynolds & Flores Publication Award from the American Association of Law Libraries. Alex is also a country editor for Foreign Law Guide (Brill) and the chief editor for Legal Reference Services Quarterly (Taylor and Francis).
Andrea Levan graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2022 with double B.A.s in Chinese and Global Politics with a concentration in East Asia. Andrea has been researching with Professor Alex Zhang since November 2020, assisting in a few of Zhang's projects including "Mapping Asian Legal Responses to COVID-19". Andrea presented this research project alongside Professor Zhang at the 2022 Bridging the Spectrum Symposium hosted by the Catholic University of America. Andrea currently works as a Paralegal Specialist within the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C.
Published November/December 2022
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. What is Comparative Law Research
- 3. Country-Specific Resources
- 4. China
- 4.1. Legal System: Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics
- 4.2. Major Legal Institutions
- 4.2.1. National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee
- 4.2.2. The President
- 4.2.3. State Council
- 4.2.4. Judiciary
- 4.3. Primary Sources of Law
- 4.4. Secondary Sources of Law
- 5. Singapore
- 5.1. Major Legal Institutions
- 5.1.1. Legislature
- 5.1.2. Executive
- 5.1.3. Judiciary
- 5.2. Primary Sources of Law
- 5.2.1. Constitution
- 5.2.2. Legislation
- 5.3. Secondary Sources of Law
- 5.1. Major Legal Institutions
This article discusses research tools and tactics for legal problems surrounding contact tracing technologies and the right to privacy in China and Singapore. This article aims to provide resources and strategies for identifying relevant materials that examine the relationship between tracking technology adoption and the right to privacy in the present and post-pandemic circumstances. We hope that researchers interested in the subject or performing comparative legal studies at the junction will find this article helpful. We focus on the following resource categories and the most effective way of locating information about them: Main features of the legal system, including legal institutions and major players in the lawmaking and rulemaking process; primary sources of law; and relevant secondary sources of law.
2. What is Comparative Law Research
Comparative law research is inherently complicated in multiple dimensions, such as its objective, methods, and sources to consult. Different approaches and source content may be explored depending on the goal of a comparative legal research project. This article will discuss the sources and research methods used to discover common themes in comparative law studies. Then we'll look at resources in both nations that deal with the junction of privacy and contact tracing technology.
There are a lot of in-depth descriptive or normative discussions of comparative law. For a general understanding of comparative law as a discipline or research methodology, as well as different approaches within the comparative law methodologies regimes and sources that should be considered, see:
- H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World (2010).
- Walther Hug, The History of Comparative Law, 45 Harv. L. Rev. 1027 (1932). This Article presented a successful attempt to uncover the history of comparative law studies in Europe and America.
- William P. Alford, On the Limits of “Grand Theory” in Comparative Law, 61 Wash. L. Rev. 945 (186).
- Teemu Ruskola, Where Is Asia? When Is Asia? Theorizing Comparative Law and International Law, 43 UC Davis L. Rev. 102 (2018).
- Maura Bussani & Ugo Mattei eds., The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
- Mathias Reimann & Reinhard Zimmermann, The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (Oxford University Press, 2019).
- Taisu Zhang, The Development of Comparative Law in China, in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (Mathias Reimann & Reinhard Zimmermann eds., Oxford University Press, 2019).
- Roscoe Pound, Comparative Law and History as Bases for Chinese Law, 61 Harv. L. Rev. 749 (1948).
- Arif A. Jamal, Comparing the Teaching of Comparative Law: A View from Singapore, 14 Asian Journal of Comparative Law S195 (2019).
- Li-ann Thio, “Lex Rex or Rex Lex: Competing Conceptions of the Rule of Law in Singapore,” 20 UCLA Pac. Basin L. J. 1 (2002).
For Methodologies of Comparative Law, see:
- Mark Van Hoecke, Methodology of Comparative Legal Research in Law, and Method (2015).
- P. Ishwara Bhat, Comparative Method of Legal Research in Idea and Methods of Legal Research (Oxford University Press, 2020).
- John C. Reitz, How to Do Comparative Law, 46 Am. J. Comp. L. 617 (1998).
- Holger Spamann, Empirical Comparative Law, 11 Annual Rev. L. Soc. Sci. 131 (2015).
- Geoffrey Samuel, Comparative Law, and its Methodology in Research Methods in Law (Dawn Watkins and Mandy Burton eds., 2d 2018).
2.1. Comparative Law Research Resources on Data Privacy
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive influence on all legal systems worldwide. The pandemic has prompted the majority of, if not all, countries to review their legal and political response mechanisms to natural disasters, as well as their regulatory tools for encouraging, ensuring, and regulating the ethical and practical use of technology and their systems for balancing efficiency in containing the pandemic with the right to privacy. Many conflicts and issues are also revealed during the pandemic.
For global legislative responses to COVID-19 in surveillance technology and the right to privacy, see:
- Global Legislative Responses to Coronavirus, 8 The Theory and Practice of Legislation (2020).
- Digital Symposium: Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law (last accessed April 24, 2022).
- COVID-19 Law Lab (last accessed April 24, 2022).
For discussion of the development of data privacy law in the age of the pandemic, see
- Vibhushinie Bentotahewa et al., Solutions to Big Data Privacy and Security Challenges Associated with COVID-19 Surveillance Systems, Frontiers in Big Data (2021).
- Jonathan M. Gaffney, Eric N. Holmes & Chris D. Linebaugh, Digital Contact Tracing and Data Protection Law, Congressional Research Service Report (Sept 24, 2020).
- Lorna McGregor, Contact-tracing Apps and Human Rights (April 3, 2020).
- David Restrepo Amariles, From Computational Indicators to Law into Technologies: The Internet of Things, Data Analytics And Encoding in COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps, 17 International J. L. In Context 261 (2021).
3. Country-Specific Resources
3.1. Why China and Singapore?
On the one hand, China and Singapore have vastly different legal regimes and fundamentally distinct privacy norms. On the other hand, both have a legal pluralism element that influences the evolution of the right to privacy. China's legal system is characterized as a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics. Its development has been profoundly influenced by a variety of legal ideas and cultures, including but not limited to civil law, common law, the Soviet Union's communist legal system, and legal traditions such as Confucius, Legalism, and Taoism. As a former British colony, Singapore, on the other hand, has a common law system with a legal plurality in religious law.
For more discussions on the evolution of the right to privacy in each country's legal system, see:
- Christina Whitman, Privacy in Confucian and Taoist Thought in Donald Murro ed., Individualism and Holism: Studies in Confucian and Taoist Values (University of Michigan Center of Chinese Studies, 1985).
- Jingchun Cao, Protecting the Right to Privacy in China, 36 Vic. U. Wellington L. Rev. 25 (2005).
- Hao Wang, The Conceptual Basis of Privacy Standards in China and Its Implications for China’s Privacy Law, 7 Frontiers of Law in China 134 (2012).
- Megan Richardson, A Common Law of Privacy, 6 Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 18 (2021).
- Chin Tet Yung, Protecting Information Privacy in Singapore in Information Technology and Singapore Society: Trends, Policies, and Applications (1990).
- Simon Chesterman ed., Data Protection Law in Singapore (2014).
- China – From Warring States to Convergence? In Graham Greenleaf, Asian Data Privacy Law: Trade & Human Rights Perspectives (2014).
- Singapore – Uncertain Scope, Strong Powers In Graham Greenleaf, Asian Data Privacy Law: Trade & Human Rights Perspectives (2014).
Regarding data technology, China and Singapore are experiencing rapid technological advancements. Both countries have used contact tracing technologies to try to stop the spread of COVID-19, a move that comes with both benefits and drawbacks. Both technologies are widely used in each country and have proven successful in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the discussions of the technical details of contact tracing technology adopted in either country, see:
- Digital Technology and Contact Tracing in Jeffrey P. Kahn ed., Digital Contract Tracing for Pandemic Response: Ethics and Governance Guidance (2020).
- Yibiao Zhou et al., Use of Contract Tracing, Isolation, and Mass Testing to Control Transmission of COVID-19 in China, 375 BMJ n. 2230 (2021).
- Sean Han Sheng Lai et al., The Experience of Contract Tracing in Singapore in the Control of COVID-19: Highlighting the Use of Digital Technology, 45 International Orthopedics 65 (2021).
- Wanshu Cong, From Pandemic Control to Data-Driven Governance: The Case of China’s Health Code, 3 Frontiers in Political Science (2021).
4.1. Legal System: Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics
The legal system in China is a "Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics." In 2011, the State Council of the People's Republic of China released a white paper that coined and elaborated the term. The Chinese legal system is mostly influenced by the civil law system, Chinese legal tradition, the power and political influence of China's party leadership, and the country's open-up policies that started in the late 1970s.
4.2. Major Legal Institutions
Major legal institutions in China include the National People's Congress, the State Council and its affiliated departments, the People's Supreme Court, and the People's Supreme Procuratorate. In addition, although the country's founding and ruling political party, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), does not directly issue laws or regulations, the leadership of the CCP is a defining feature of the country's socialist legal system. For example, Article 1 of the Constitution stipulates, "The socialist system is the fundamental system of the People’s Republic of China. Leadership by the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is prohibited for any organization or individual to damage the socialist system.” Furthermore, the CCP has always been one of the guiding principles in China, including its legal reform.
For more discussions on the CCP’s influence on China’s legal system, see:
- Rogier Creemers & Susan Trevaskes, Law and the Party in China: Ideology and Organization (2021).
- Council on Foreign Relations, The Chinese Communist Party (2021).
- Yongnian Zheng & Lance L. P. Gore eds., The Chinese Communist Party in Action: Consolidating Party Rule (2020).
- Glenn Tiffert, Socialist Rule of Law with Chinese Characteristics in Hualing Fu, John Gillespie, Pip Nicholson, and William Partlett eds., Socialist Law in Socialist East Asia (2018).
4.2.1. National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee
The National People's Congress (NPC) is the highest legislative body in China. Article 67 of the Constitution defines the function and power of the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee. More specifically, NPC and its Standing Committee (“NPCSC”) exercise lawmaking power, interpret the Constitution, and supervise the enforcement of the Constitution, and issue legislative interpretation. The Law on Legislation of the People’s Republic of China delineates the lawmaking process in China. The Organic Law of the People’s Republic of China defines the working procedure of the NPC sessions. Detailed information about the procedure of the NPC sessions and its working and administrative bodies is accessible on the official website of the NPC. An organizational chart of the NPC is made available by NPC Observer in 2019. In particular, the Constitution and Law Committee and the Legislative Affairs Commission play a vital role in the legislation-making process in China. NPC also has the authority to supervise the State Council, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, and to annul administrative rules, regulations, decisions, or orders issued by the State Council that violate the laws or Constitution.
For more discussions of China’s NPC and its Standing Committee, see:
- Roger JEH Creemers and Susan Trevaskes eds., Law, and the Party in China: Ideology and Organization (2020).
- Xiaonan Yang, Legislative Interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in China, 38 Hong Kong L. J. 255 (2008).
- Eric C. Ip, Constitutional Competition between the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal and the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee: A Game Theory Perspective, 39 Law & Social Inquiry 82 (Fall 2014).
- Kevin J. O’Brien, Reform without Liberalization: China’s National People’s Congress and the Politics of Institutional Change (2008).
- Guoguang Wu, China’s Party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation (2015).
4.2.2. The President
The President and Vice-President of the PRC are to be elected by the National People’s Congress. Article 80 and Article 81 of the Constitution define the power and function of the President. Article 80 explicitly grants the power to declare a state of emergency to the President. The State Council has the power to place local regions under a state of emergency. The Law on Legislation stipulates that national legislations adopted by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee must be issued by an order of the President and signed by the President.
4.2.3. State Council
The State Council of the PRC is the country's highest executive body. Article 89 of the Constitution defines the power and role of the State Council. This includes issuing administrative rules and regulations per the laws and Constitution and submitting legislative proposals to the NPC or NPCSC. The composition of the State Council is determined by the NPC and NPCSC and promulgated by the President.
The Working Rules of the State Council, updated in 2018, describes the structure, function, and working procedure of the State Council. As a legal institution, the State Council plays an essential role in China's legal evolution in many ways. According to the CPC Central Committee's Plan on Deepening the Reform of Party and State Institutions, the Legal Affairs Commission has been reorganized into the Ministry of Justice. The primary function of the Ministry of Justice includes drafting legislative and administrative regulations bills, issuing, amending, or repealing administrative regulations, interpreting administrative regulations, and issuing administrative decisions and orders.
Supreme People’s Court: The Supreme People’s Court is the nation’s highest judicial organ. According to Article 131 of the Constitution, the people’s courts exercise judicial power independently. However, it is also vital to remember that China’s courts are ultimately accountable to the People’s Congress. The President of the Supreme People’s Court is appointed or removed by the NPC. The Organic Law of the People’s Courts of the People’s Republic of China defines the function and power of the people’s courts.
For more discussions about the independence of China’s judiciary, see
- Xiaohui Li, Research on the Building of China’s Smart Court in the Internet Era, 8 China Legal Science 30 (2020).
- Xin He, The Politics of Courts in China, 2 China Law and Society Review 129 (2017).
- Yanrong Zhao, The Court’s Active Role in the Striving for Judicial Independence in China, 12 Frontiers of Law in China 278 (2017).
- Keith Hand, An Assessment of Socialist Constitutional Supervision Models and Prospects for a Constitutional Supervision Committee in China: The Constitution as Commander, in John Garrick & Yan Chang Bennett eds., China’s Socialist Rule of Law Reforms Under Xi Jinping (Taylor & Francis, 2016).
In China, the court system has four levels: the Supreme People's Court, high courts, intermediate courts, and primary courts. In addition, China also has a few specialized courts: military courts, maritime courts, intellectual property courts, internet courts, railway transport courts, and forestry courts. The Supreme People's Court also issues judicial interpretations in addition to judicial decisions. According to the Supreme People's Court on Judicial Interpretation Work, the Supreme People's Court has the authority to make judicial interpretations, and the SPC's judicial interpretations have the same legal effect as SPC's judicial verdicts.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate: According to the Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates of the People’s Republic of China, the people’s procuratorates are the state organ for legal supervision. The Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) is the state's highest state organ for legal supervision. The people's procuratorates are divided into three levels: SPP, the local people's procuratorates at all levels, and the military procuratorates and other specialized people's procuratorates. SPP is responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee. People’s procuratorates report to the people’s congresses and their standing committees at the corresponding level. The SPP may issue judicial interpretation on the specific applications of law in the procuratorial work.
4.3. Primary Sources of Law
Constitution: In China, the Constitution is the supreme law. On the other hand, the Constitution is now not citable in China. Article 33 of the Constitution stipulates that the State respects and protects human rights. Article 37 safeguards citizens’ personal freedom. Article 38 protects the personal dignity of citizens of the PRC and prohibits insult, libel, false accusation, or false incrimination against citizens of the PRC.
Legislation: Article 8 of the Law on Legislation specifies the subject matters to be governed by laws. According to Article 9 of the Law on Legislation, the NPC or its Standing Committee may delegate the State Council to issue regulations first in the areas where laws have not been developed in compliance with Article 8. In addition to laws, the NPC or its Standing Committee may also adopt resolutions or decisions.
For more discussions about the difference among laws, resolutions, and decisions, see:
- Songshan Liu, 全国人大及其常委会决议和决定的应然分界, 2 FaXue (2021), http://fzzfyjy.cupl.edu.cn/info/1036/12725.htm.
- Taige Hu, Demystifying the NPC's quasi-legislative Decisions (2021), https://npcobserver.com/2021/02/22/demystifying-the-npcs-quasi-legislative-decisions/.
- Laura Paler, China’s Legislation Law and the Making of a More Orderly and Representative Legislative System, 182 The China Quarterly 301 (2005).
- Murray Scot Tanner, How a Bill Becomes a Law in China: Stages and Processes in Lawmaking, 141 The China Quarterly 39 (1995).
- Tao-tai Hsia, Lawmaking in the People’s Republic of China: Terms, Procedures, Hierarchy, and Interpretation (1986).
It is also worth noting that the NPCSC has the authority to issue legislative interpretations. The legislative interpretation in China has the same legal force as laws by the NPC or NPCSC. According to Article 45 of the Law on Legislation, the NPCSC shall issue legislative interpretations when “(1) the specific meaning of any provisions of a law requires further clarification; and (2) any new circumstances appearing after the issuance of a law require clarification of the basis for the application of law.”
According to the Law on Legislation, laws, after being signed and promulgated by the President, shall be published promptly in the Official Gazette of the NPCSC, the official website of the NPC and national newspapers. The version published in the Official Gazette of the NPCSC is the most authoritative version.
4.3.1. Four Major National Laws Governing Personal Information Privacy
Civil Law of the People's Republic of China: A natural person in China enjoys the right to privacy, reputation, and honor, among other rights, according to Article 110. Furthermore, the personal information of a natural person is protected by law. “Any organization or individual needing to obtain the personal information of other persons shall legally obtain and ensure the security of such information, and shall not illegally collect, use, process or transmit the personal person of other persons, nor illegally buy, sell, provide or publish the personal information of other persons.”
Chapter VI of the Civil Law governs the right to privacy and the protection of personal information. Article 1034 defines personal information as “various information recorded electronically or in other forms that can identify a specific natural person separately or in combination with other information, including a natural person’s name, date of birth, identify card number, biological recognition information, address, telephone number, e-mail address, health information, and whereabouts information, among others.”
Personal information shall be processed in accordance with Article 1035. Article 1036 exempts actors from civil liability when “reasonably conducting acts to protect the public interest or the lawful rights and interests of the natural person.” Personal information about natural persons must be kept confidential by state organizations, statutory entities, and employees, according to Article 1039.
Cybersecurity Law of the People’s Republic of China: Article 22 stipulates that network products and services must comply with the compulsory requirements of relevant national standards. In addition, Article 22 states, “where network products and services have the function of collecting users’ information, their providers shall explicitly notify their users and obtain their consent. If any user’s personal information is involved, the provider shall also comply with the Law and the provisions of relevant laws and administrative regulations on the protection of personal information.”
Data Security Law of the People’s Republic of China: According to Article 38 of the Data Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, the government must keep data confidential “in accordance with the law in the individual privacy, personal information, trade secrets, confidential business information, and other data which comes to its knowledge, and shall not divulge or illegally provide others with such data.”
Personal Information Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China: Article 4 defines personal information as “all kinds of information related to identified or identifiable natural persons that are electronically or otherwise recorded, excluding information that has been anonymized.” Personal information processing “shall be for a clear and reasonable purpose, directly related to the processing purpose and in a manner that has the minimum impact on the rights and interests of individuals.” Furthermore, the collection “shall be limited to the minimum scope necessary for archiving the process purpose and shall not be excessive.” Article 13 laid out the circumstances where personal information can be processed including when “the processing is necessary to respond to public health emergencies or protect the life, health or property safety of natural persons under emergency circumstances,” and when “within a reasonable scope to conduct news reporting, public opinion-based supervision, or other activities in the public interest.”
Article 28 defines sensitive personal information as “the personal information of which the leakage or illegal use could easily lead to the violation of the personal dignity of a natural person or harm to personal or property safety, including information on biometric identification, religious beliefs, specific identity, health care, financial accounts, and personal whereabouts, and personal information of minors under the age of fourteen.”
4.3.2. Administrative Regulations and Departmental Rules
The State Council has the power to issue administrative regulations following the Constitution and laws. Article 65 of Law on Legislation defines the matters that administrative regulations can govern. Administrative regulations, after being issued and signed, shall be published promptly in the Official Gazette of the State Council, on the official website of the State Council, and in national newspapers. The version published in the Official Gazette of the State Council is considered the most authoritative version.
In addition to administrative regulations, ministries in China, under the supervision of the State Council, have the power to issue departmental rules. Regulations on Procedures for the Formulation of Rules (2017 Revision) sets out the scope, procedure, and legal force of the rules issued by the departments. Rules must be in accordance with the Constitution, laws, and regulations. Article 9 describes the situation where joint rules shall be formulated. According to the 2017 Regulations, rules can only be titled "provisions" or "measures" but not "regulations." The agency that issues the rule may interpret the rule under two circumstances, when "(1) the specific meaning of the rule needs to be further defined or clarified; or (2) new circumstance arises after the adoption of the rule, and therefore a further clarification is needed." The interpretation has the same legal force as a rule itself. The Provisions on Administration of Editing and Publication of Collection of Regulations stipulate that the compilation and publication of departmental rules are decided and governed by the respective departments. In addition, it is also necessary to point out that administrative departments may issue their provisions or measures on the procedures for developing departmental rules.
Furthermore, Regulations and rules shall be filed for archiving purposes in compliance with the Ordinance on the Procedures for the Enactment of Government Rules. For more discussions about the administrative regulations and its rulemaking process, see:
- Murray Scott Tanner, The Politics of Lawmaking in the Post-Mao China: Institutions, Processes, and Democratic Prospects (1999).
- Wei Cui, When do Chinese National Ministries Make Law? (2019).
- Steven J. Balla & Zhoudan Xie, Consultation as policymaking innovation: Comparing Government Transparency and Public Participation in China and the United States, 5 Journal of Chinese Governance 525 (2019).
- Jamie P. Horsley, China Implements More Participatory Ruling Under Communist Party (2018).
- Benjamin van Rooij & Annemieke van den Dool, Lawmaking in China: Understanding Substantive and Procedural Changes, China Law, and Society Review (2016).
Administrative regulations, rules, and measures governing and enforcing security and personal information privacy laws are yet to be promulgated. Currently, according to Regulation on Protecting the Security of Critical Information Infrastructure ("CII"). promulgated by the State Council on April 27, 2021, the national cybersecurity administration, the public security department, and the telecommunications department are primarily responsible for guiding, supervising, and administering the security of CII. CII is defined as “any of network facilities and information systems in important industries and fields—such as public communication and information services, energy, transportation, water conservancy, finance, public services, e-government, and science, technology and industry for national defense—that may seriously endanger national security, national economy and people's livelihood, and public interests in the event that they are damaged or lose their functions or their data are leaked.”
4.4. Secondary Sources of Law
There are many publishers publishing treatises, scholarly Articles, and practitioner-oriented works on Chinese law in both English and Chinese. For an overview of major legal periodicals covering Chinese law, see Evelyn Ma & Xiaomeng Zhang, Research Chinese Law Using Legal Periodicals in English and Chinese: A Critical Overview, 34 Legal Reference Services Quarterly 1 (2015). In addition, both Lawinfochina and CNKI have made available numerous legal periodicals in Chinese online for a fee.
Case Law, Guiding Cases, and Judicial Interpretations: Judicial decisions are not a primary source of law. According to the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on the Citation of Normative Legal Documents such as Laws and Regulations in the Judgments, the legal force of the normative legal documents in China is ranked as follows: laws and legislative interpretations issued by the NPCSC, administrative regulations, local regulations, regulations on the exercise of autonomy or separate regulations and finally judicial interpretations.
In 2010, the Supreme People’s Court of China issued a Provision on Guiding Cases. Guiding cases are to be determined and published uniformly by the Supreme People’s Court. Article 2 of the Provision defines the scope of guiding cases. Article 2 of the Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Case Guidance further stipulates that a guiding case shall be “ a case in which the judgment has become effective, the determination of facts is clear, the application of law is correct, and judgment’s reasoning is sufficient, with positive legal and social effects and has universally directive significance in the trial of similar cases.” In 2019, the Supreme People's Procuratorate also issued a Provision on Case Guidance, Article 2 of which defines the term “guiding cases” under China’s procuratorate system. For more detailed discussions about the nature and functionality of guiding cases in the Chinese legal system, see:
- Lei Shi, 指导性案例的选编标准与裁判要点类型分析, 18 法律适用 3 (2019).
- Li Guo & Bulelani Jili, The Emergence of Guiding Cases in China, 6 Peking University Law Journal 273 (2018).
- Note, Chinese Common Law Guiding cases and Judicial Reform, 129 Harvard Law Review 2213 (2016).
- Ngoc Son Bui, The Socialist Precedent, 52 Cornell International Law Journal 421 (2019).
- Colin Hawes, Transforming the Culture of Chinese Prosecutors Through Guiding Cases, 23 New Criminal Law Review 196 (2020).
Journal Articles and Monographs: Scholarly commentaries in China are considered an important secondary resource. Researchers can find a catalog of legal monographs published in China in the Law Yearbook of China. In addition, users may also find the books through the catalog of the National Library of China. Major legal publishers in China include Law Press China, China Democracy Legal System Press, the Commercial Press, Ltd., SDX Joint Publishing Company, and University Presses.
Major journals focusing on Chinese law in English or Chinese are available in the following commercial databases: Lawinfochina, CNKI, Springer, Taylor and Francis, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Westlaw, Lexis, Hein, etc. In addition, Chinese scholars and academic institutions tend to regard journals indexed in the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index. In addition, Index to Legal Periodicals and Books by HW Wilson and Law Journals Ranking by Washington and Lee University Law School also index Articles on Chinese law and in English.
For more discussions about contact tracing and its interaction with individual information privacy, see:
- National Law Review, Five Immediate Steps to Take in Preparation for China’s New Comprehensive Privacy Law (Nov. 2, 2021).
- Graham Greenleaf, China Issues a Comprehensive Draft Data Privacy Law, 168 Privacy Laws & Business International Report 1 (March 2021).
- Xueping Liu, Legal Dilemma and Outlet of Privacy Protection in the Era of Big Data (June 2021).
- Yunfei Xing, Yuhai Li, Feng-Kwei Wang, How Privacy Concerns and Cultural Differences Affect Public Opinion during the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Case Study (June 2021).
- Philipp Boeing & Yihan Wang, Decoding China’s COVID-19 ‘virus exceptionalism’: Community-based digital contact tracing in Wuhan (March 2021).
- Wanshu Cong, From Pandemic Control to Data-Driven Governance: The Case of China’s Health Code (April 2021).
Singapore's legal system has its origins in the English legal system. Singapore is a republic with a parliamentary system of government based on the Westminster Model. The Constitution, legislation, subsidiary legislation, and judge-made law are the main sources of law. Although it is primarily a common law country, Singapore has been greatly affected by other legal cultures and systems. It has a long and rich legal history and tradition, including laws governing information and data protection.
For more detailed discussions on Singapore's legal system and history, see:
- Singapore Academy of Law, Legal and Constitutional History of Singapore (last accessed June 16, 2022).
- Kevin Tan, Essays in Singapore Legal History (2005).
- Kevin Y L Tan, Singapore: A Statist Legal Laboratory in E. Ann Black and Gary F. Bell eds., Law and Legal Institutions of Asia (2011).
- Gary Chan Kok Yew and Jack Tsen-Ta Lee, The Legal System of Singapore – Institutions, Principles and Practices (2015).
5.1. Major Legal Institutions
Major legal institutions in Singapore include the Legislature (the President and Parliament), the Executive (the Elected President, the Cabinet, and the Attorney General), and the Judiciary (the Supreme Court and the State Courts). Each institution has distinct roles and responsibilities.
According to Article 38 of the Constitution, the legislative power of Singapore is vested in the Parliament and the President. The President of Singapore acts as the country’s Head of State. After the passage of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1991, the office of the President transformed from a largely ceremonial role indirectly elected by Parliament to one directly elected by the people. Furthermore, according to Article 23 of the Constitution, the “executive authority of Singapore shall be vested in the President exercisable subject to the provisions of this Constitution by him or by the Cabinet of any Minister authorized by the Cabinet, and the Legislature may by law confer executive functions on other persons.”
Being unicameral, the Parliament of Singapore consists of one House. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected through the General Elections. The leader of the political party that secures most seats in Parliament will become the Prime Minister, as requested by the President.
A Bill can be introduced in Parliament by any Member of Parliament. For a Bill to become an Act of Parliament or a law, it must go through three readings in Parliament and receive the President's approval. Laws are to be published in the Government Gazette. In addition, comprehensive and free online public access to Singapore legislation is available through the Singapore Statutes Online website, maintained by the Legislative Division in Singapore’s central law drafting office.
For more discussions on Singapore’s elected presidency and parliamentary system, see:
- Jaclyn L. Neo & Swati Jhaveri, Constitutional Change in Singapore: Reforming the Elected Presidency (2019).
- Gary Chan Kok Yew and Jack Tsen-Ta Lee, The Legal System of Singapore – Institutions, Principles, and Practices (2015).
- Kenneth Paul Tan, The Singapore Parliament: Representation, Effectiveness, and Control in Lye Liang Fook et al., eds., Parliaments in Asia: Institution Building and Political Development (2013).
The Prime Minister of Singapore is appointed by the President under Article 25 of the Constitution. The Prime Minister is the effective head of the executive branch of government and chairs the Cabinet, which is constituted under Article 24 of the Constitution. The Attorney-General is the principal legal advisor to Singapore's government and public prosecutor. Under Article 35(8), the Attorney-General has the power to institute, conduct, or discontinue any proceedings for any offence.
The Cabinet, which consists of the Prime Minister and other Ministers, has the general direction and control over the Government. The Cabinet is the central decision-making body of the executive government. There are 16 Ministries in the Cabinet. Among them, the Ministry of Communications and Information, the Ministry of Health (“MOH”), and the Prime Minister’s Office oversee issues relating to data protection and public health. The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), a statutory body under the Ministry of Communications and Information is Singapore's leading authority governing matters related to personal data protection.
The MOH manages COVID-19 contact tracing in Singapore. The MOH administers the use of the contact tracing system SafeEntry, which was first introduced in 2020. In 2021, this ministry announced the integration of SafeEntry with TraceTogether, an app made by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech). GovTech is a statutory body under the Prime Minister’s Office that oversees the management and implementation of info-communications technology.
For more discussions of the agencies regulating information, data privacy, and data applications employed in Singapore, see:
- Susan Landau, People Count: Contact-Tracing Apps and Public Health (2021).
- Melina Martinus, Smart City and Privacy Concerns During COVID-19: Lessons from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in Thanh Phan & Daniela Damian eds., Smart Cities in Asia: Regulations, Problems, and Development (2022).
- Jun Jie Woo, Capacity-Building and Pandemics: Singapore’s Response to COVID-19 (2020).
- S.C.Y. Luk & P.W. Preston, Singapore after Lee Yuan Yew (2020).
- Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Evolution of Science, Technology and Innovation Policies for Sustainable Development: The Experience of China, Japan, The Republic of Korea and Singapore (2019).
The judiciary comprises the Supreme Court, State Courts, and the Family Justice Courts. According to Article 93 of the Constitution, “the judicial power of Singapore shall be vested in a Supreme Court in such subordinate courts as may be provided by any written law for the time being in force.”
The Supreme Court comprises the Singapore Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act governs the power, function, and operation of the Supreme Court. The Family Justice Act of 2014 governs the power, jurisdiction, and operation of the Family Justice Courts. The State Courts Act of 1970 governs the jurisdiction, power, and function of the state courts.
For more discussions of the judicial power in Singapore, see:
- Kevin Y. L. Tan, As Efficient as the Best Business: Singapore’s Judicial System in Jiunn-rong Yeh & Wen-Chen Chang eds., Asian Courts in Context (2015).
- Helena Whalen-Bridge, Court backlogs: Balancing Efficiency and Justice in Singapore, 26 International Journal of the Legal Profession 159 (2019).
5.2. Primary Sources of Law
As a common law country, there are four main primary sources of law in Singapore. This article focuses on the primary sources for researching Singapore’s technology and privacy rights. For Singaporeans, the COVID-19 pandemic has been closely interrelated with technology given the country’s widespread implementation of contract-tracing systems.
The Constitution is the supreme law of Singapore. It prevails over judicial decisions, and all laws enacted by the Legislature must be consistent with the Constitution. The Constitution is available on the Singapore Statutes Online website.
Although Singapore’s Constitution explicitly protects certain fundamental liberties, such as personal liberty, equal protection of citizens, right in respect of education, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, it does not include a right to privacy. Any protection of privacy comes from common law rulemaking.
For more discussions on Singapore’s Constitution law, see:
- Kevin YL Tan, Constitutional Law in Singapore (2018).
- Jaclyn L. Neo, Constitutional Interpretation in Singapore: Theory and Practice (2016).
- Kevin YL Tan, The Constitution of Singapore: A Contextual Analysis (2015).
- The Right to Privacy in Singapore: Stakeholder Report (Privacy International, 2015).
- Universal Periodic Review of Singapore (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2011).
The lawmaking process in Singapore starts with a Bill. Bills must go through three readings in the Parliament and receive the President’s assent before becoming an Act. The Attorney General Chamber of Singapore provides a concise summary of the legislative process in Singapore.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore’s government passed the COVID (Temporary Measures) Act, effective Apr. 7, 2020, and the Act was last amended in March 2022. Article 81 of the Act explains the government's use of personal contact tracing data to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. The maintaining of the secrecy of personal contact tracing data is also outlined in Article 82. Article 82 specifies that no law enforcement may “order the disclosure or production of, or search, access or seize, any personal contact tracing data for any investigation or criminal proceeding, except an investigation or criminal proceeding in respect of a serious offence.”
TraceTogether data was intended to strictly be used for contact tracing when it was first introduced. However, on January 4, 2021, Singapore's Minister of State of Home Affairs, Desmond Tan, announced that the Singapore Police Force (SPF) could obtain TraceTogether data for criminal investigations under Singapore’s Criminal Procedure Code. On that same day, the privacy statement on the TraceTogether site was then updated to declare that the Criminal Procedure Code applies to all data under Singapore’s jurisdiction. Later in March 2021, the privacy statement was revised again to carve out an exception under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, stating “[a]ny Bluetooth data shared with MOH can only be used for contact tracing. The only exception is when the data is needed for investigation or criminal proceedings relating to serious offences laid out in the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act. This protection for personal contact tracing data overrides other legislation.”
The government's policy change on using TraceTogether data sparked concerns about privacy among Singaporeans. To ease these tensions, the government passed the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Amendment) Bill on February 1, 2021, specifying the cases in which data from TraceTogether can be used. This new legislation will limit law enforcement’s use of contact tracing data into seven specific categories of offense:
- Serious sexual offenses
- Terrorism-related offenses
- Drug trafficking offenses that carry the death penalty
- Escape from legal custody where there is a reasonable belief that the subject will harm others
- Crimes where a victim is seriously hurt or killed
- Offenses involving the use or possession of corrosive substances, or offensive or dangerous weapons.
184.108.40.206. Major National Laws Governing Personal Information Privacy
Personal Data Protection Act: The Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) was passed to govern the standard for personal data use and disclosure in Singapore. The PDPA is the principal data protection legislation in the country. The Act was amended in 2021 to "strengthen organizational accountability and consumer protection while giving organizations the confidence to harness personal data for innovation,” according to the Personal Data Protection Commission.
Computer Misuse Act and Cybersecurity Act: In addition, both the Computer Misuse Act and Cybersecurity Act govern the processing of personal data. The Computer Misuse Act (CMA) of 1993 protects personal data held by organizations from unauthorized access and modification. Articles 18 and 19 explicitly carve out an exception for police investigation, law enforcement, and police arrest without a warrant.
The Cybersecurity Act of 2018 was enacted to “require or authorise the taking of measures to prevent, manage and respond to cybersecurity threats and incidents, to regulate owners of critical information infrastructure, to regulate cybersecurity service providers, and for matters related thereto, and to make consequential or related amendments to certain other written laws.”, The Commissioner of Cybersecurity is given broad powers to administer the Cybersecurity Act under article 4.
For more discussions on Singapore’s legislation on personal data and personal information privacy, see:
- Simon Chesterman, Data Protection Law in Singapore: Privacy and Sovereignty in an Interconnected World (2014).
- Graham Greenleaf, Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act 2012: Scope and Principles (with so Many Exemptions, it is only a ‘Known Unknown’) (2012).
- The Right to Privacy in Singapore: Stakeholder Report (Privacy International, 2015).
- Eg-Ing Ong, Data Protection in the Internet: National rapporteur (Singapore) (2018).
- Simon Chesterman ed., Data Protection Law in Singapore (2018).
- Warren Chik, The Singapore Personal Data Protection Act, and an assessment of future trends in data privacy reform (2013).
5.3. Secondary Sources of Law
Court Decisions: As a common law country, Singapore follows the stare decisis, and case law is considered the country's primary source of law. Singapore’s case laws are published in Singapore Law Reports, which can be accessed using LawNet. The Supreme Court of Singapore offers free access to judgments. Singapore Law Watch also provides judgments from the Court of Appeal and High Court.
In May 2021, the Singapore High Court recently delivered a judgment in the case of Bellingham, Alex v. Reed, Michael  SGHC 125 ("Bellingham v Reed") that shed light on the scope of a person's right of private action under Section 32 of the PDPA (now section 48 of the amended PDPA). The High Court held that loss of control over personal data or emotional distress from such loss of control, without more, is not enough to establish a right of private action. Instead, a person must have suffered one of the “heads of loss and damage under common law (such as financial loss, damage to property, and personal injury, including psychiatric illness).” The case is presently on appeal to the Singapore Court of Appeal.
Journal Articles and Monographs: Researchers may find journal articles by searching major legal journal databases such as Lexis, Westlaw, Jstor, Hein, Cambridge Core, Springer, Pubmed, and Oxford. In addition, LawNet provides access to many legal journals and monographs published in Singapore on legal topics of Singapore.
 Xianfa art. 1 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 67 (2018) (China).
 Since the Chinese Constitution, despite being the country's supreme law, is not judiciable, it has primarily been considered unenforceable. Neither NPC nor its Standing Committee has not issued any official interpretation yet.
 Lifa Fa (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Renda Zuzhifa (人大组织法)【Organic law of NPC】（China).
 Xianfa art. 67 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 63 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa arts. 80-81 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 80 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 89 (2018) (China).
 Lifa Fa arts. 25 & 44 (2015) (China).
 Xianfa art. 85 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 80 (2018) (China).
 Working Rules of the State Council (2018), art. 19.
 Xianfa art. 132 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 131 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 132 (2018) (China).
 Xianfa art. 63 (2018) (China).
 Renmin Fayuan Zuzhifa （2018） (人民法院组织法)「Organic Law of the People’s Courts of the People’s Republic of China」.
 Zuigao Renmin Fayuan Guanyu Sifa Jieshi Gongzuo de Jueding arts. 3-5 (2021) (最高人民法院关于司法解释工作的决定)[Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on the Judicial Interpretation Work].
 Renmin Jiachayuan Zuzhifa art. 2（2018） (人民检察院组织法)「Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates of the People’s Republic of China」.
 Renmin Jiachayuan Zuzhifa art. 12（2018） (人民检察院组织法)「Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates of the People’s Republic of China」.
 Renmin Jiachayuan Zuzhifa art. 10（2018） (人民检察院组织法)「Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates of the People’s Republic of China」.
 Renmin Jiachayuan Zuzhifa art. 30（2018） (人民检察院组织法)「Organic Law of the People’s Procuratorates of the People’s Republic of China」.
 Xianfa art. 33 (2018) (China). (English Translation by LawInfoChina).
 Xianfa art. 37 (2018) (China). English Translation by LawInfoChina).
 Xianfa art. 38 (2018) (China). English Translation by LawInfoChina).
 Life Fa art. 8 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Life Fa art. 9 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Life Fa art. 50 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Life Fa art. 45 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Life Fa art. 58 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 MinFa Zongze art. 110 (民法总则) 【General Principles of Civil Law 】(2021).
 MinFa Zongze art. 111 (民法总则) 【General Principles of Civil Law 】(2021).
 MinFa Zongze arts. 1032-39 (民法总则) 【General Principles of Civil Law 】(2021).
 Ibid. art. 1035
 Ibid. art. 1036 (3)
 Ibid. art. 1039
 Wangluo Anquan Fa art. 22 (网络安全法） 【Cybersecurity Law of the People’s Republic of China] (2017).
 Shuju Anquan Fa art. 38 (数据安全法）【Data Security Law of the People’s Republic of China】 (2021).
 Geren Xinxi Baohufa art. 4 (个人信息保护法）【Personal information protection law of the People’s Republic of China】.
 Geren Xinxi Baohufa arts. 13(4) and 13(5) (个人信息保护法）【Personal information protection law of the People’s Republic of China】.
 Geren Xinxi Baohufa art. 28 (个人信息保护法）【Personal information protection law of the People’s Republic of China】.
 Life Fa art. 65 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Life Fa art. 71 (立法法)【Law on Legislation】 (2015) (China).
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017).
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 3.
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 9.
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 7.
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 33.
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 33.
 Regulations on Procedures for the Formulations of Rules (2017), art. 7.
 For example, see Provisions on the Procedures for Developing the Securities and Futures Rules (2020).
 Ordinance on the Archivist Filing of Regulations and Government Rules (2001).
 Regulation on Protecting the Security of Critical Information Infrastructure (2021), art. 3.
 Regulation on Protecting the Security of Critical Information Infrastructure (2021), art. 2.
 Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Citation of Normative Legal Documents such as Laws and Regulations in the Judgments (2009), art. 2
 Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Issuing the Provisions on Guiding Case (2010).
 Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Issuing the Provisions on Guiding Case (2010), art. 1.
 Notice of the Supreme People’s Court on Issuing the Provisions on Guiding Case (2010), art. 2
 Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Case Guidance, (2015), art. 2 (English translation by LawInfochina).
 Notice of the Supreme People's Procuratorate on Issuing the Provisions of the Supreme People's Procuratorate on Case Guidance (2019).
 For more discussion on China’s legal publishers, see Alex Zhang & Evelyn Ma, Researching Chinese Law Using Legal Periodicals in English, and Chinese, Legal Reference & Services Quarterly (2015)
 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (2020), art. 38.
 Constitution (2020), art. 17.
 Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act (1991), art. 17.
 Constitution (2020), art. 23.
 Constitution (2020), art. 25.
 Ibid, art. 35(8).
 Info-communications Media Development Authority Act 2016, art. 5.
 Constitution (2020), art. 93.
 Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1969.
 Family Justice Act 2014.
 State Courts Act 1970.
 Constitution (2020), art. 4.
 Constitution (2020), pt. 4.
 Megan Richardson, A Common Law of Privacy, 6 Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 18 (2021).
 Covid (Temporary Measures) Act (2020).
 Covid (Temporary Measures) Act (2020), art. 81.
 Covid (Temporary Measures) Act (2020), art. 82.
 Covid (Temporary Measures) Act (2020), art. 80.
 Personal Data Protection Act (2012).
 Ibid, art. 3.
 Computer Misuse Act 1993, arts. 18 & 19.
 Cybersecurity Act of 2018.
 Ibid, art. 4.
 Bellingham, Alex v. Reed, Michael  SGHC 125.