Recording & Review Pt. 5: “Freedom and Privacy of Correspondence”

Recording & Review is a series that discusses cases where the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) reviews the legality and/or constitutionality of various types of normative documents, including local regulations and judicial interpretations. Past installments can be found here.


An institute affiliated with China’s top court reported in 2017 that using cellphones while driving was one of the main causes of traffic accidents in China. Between 2012 and mid-2017, says the report, distracted driving caused about 11% of all traffic accidents that led to civil lawsuits, even though such behavior had been outlawed since at least 2004. Enforcement is lacking, however, because distracted driving is relatively hard to detect (even with China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras).

To combat this problem, several provinces decided to lend the police a hand. They passed what we call “phone-search provisions”: regulations that allow the police to inspect the communication records of motorists involved in accidents. Those records could provide the definitive proof of whether a driver was using cellphone just before an accident, thereby helping the police determine the liability of each party and punish the cellphone use itself.

Granting the police such authority seems like a sensible enough policy. But is it legal?

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