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2016-06-08 02:31:19

A live online broadcast by city management officials in Zhengzhou, the capital of central China’s Henan province, as they cleared Zhongyuan District streets of illegal peddlers has led some experts to raise questions of privacy infringement.

The broadcast by the Zhongyuan District Urban Management and Law Enforcement Office took place on the evening of June 1 and continued into the early hours of the following day. According to a Beijing Youth Daily report referenced in The Paper, during that period the broadcast was watched over 20,000 times.

Urban management officials, or chengguan, are tasked with low-level law enforcement in cities across China, often involving the removal of illegal street hawkers.

Yu Mengxi of the Zhongyuan District Urban Management and Law Enforcement Office’s publicity department told Sixth Tone by telephone that the idea behind the live stream was to “Let net users understand how city management officials enforce the law.” According to Yu, the Zhongyuan District Urban Management and Law Enforcement Office also wanted to show both citizens and street vendors the importance of having a nice city environment to live in, free of nuisances such as illegal street-side barbecue stalls.

Net users have been largely supportive. One net user said in a comment: “This is good, let everyone see the true appearance of some of these hawkers.”

However, Han Xiao, a lawyer at Beijing’s Kangda Law Firm, questioned the legal basis of the broadcast. He said the broadcast by Zhongyuan District’s chengguan could have infringed on the rights of those being filmed. “The peddlers are suspected of breaking the law, but they might not want the public to know this,” Han told Sixth Tone over the phone. “Live streaming excessively intrudes on their privacy.” Han suggested that pixilation could be used during streaming to greater protect the privacy of both street vendors and the public.

Yu said the decision to live-stream his department’s work was the first of its kind nationwide. “We had not considered whether live streaming would infringe on people’s rights to privacy,” Yu said. “We are still working things out.”

In China, chengguan have a poor reputation, largely driven by a number of high-profile incidents in recent years which have shown chengguan using excessive force. In July 2013, a 56-year-old watermelon seller named Deng Zhengjie was beaten to death by chengguan in the city of Linwu, in the central province of Hunan. But China’s chengguan maintain that they face a lot of opposition and aggression in carrying out their daily duties.

Gu Dasong, an associate professor at the law school of Southeast University in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, sees live streaming as a positive step for China’s city management officials. “Live streaming is a response to the question of whether citizens should be able to film and upload videos of the law enforcement process,” Gu told Sixth Tone on Tuesday afternoon. But he believes there should be limits, too: “Attention should be paid to some issues, such as protecting the personal privacy of children and minors who are caught up in the application of the law.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported that police from western China’s Sichuan province advised people that recording the work of police is against the law. The message references a viral video showing police from the city of Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, beating a man in the street as a crowd of bystanders looks on.

Mao Lixin, a lawyer at Beijing Shangquan Law Firm, told The Paper that recording the police cannot be construed as hindering their work, and thus is not against the law. The post was mostly derided by net users in the comment section of the article. One user, Dawei Aipha, called the police’s claims “nonsense.”

As for Yu, the Zhongyuan District official, he welcomes the citizens and street vendors of Zhengzhou to record the work of Zhongyuan District’s city management officers. “The people also have a right to record,” Yu said. “We can accept that, and we won’t be secretive.”

Additional reporting by Wang Lianzhang.

(Header image: City management officials are filmed dealing with illegal street peddlers in Zhengzhou, Henan province, June 1, 2016. Courtesy of Zhongyuan District Urban Management and Law Enforcement Office)