Less than a month after China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) took effect, ships in Chinese waters began disappearing from industry tracking systems.

While the PIPL governs the collection and cross-border transfer of personal information, which is broadly defined as information related to an identified or identifiable natural person that is recorded electronically or by other means, there is no reference to shipping data within the provisions of the PIPL, nor is shipping data included in the definition of personal information. Nevertheless, some domestic providers in China have reportedly ceased providing information to foreign companies, ostensibly because of the PIPL.

The PIPL applies to the handlers of personal information, which refers to an organization or individual that, when handling personal information, independently determines the purpose and method of handling. A personal information handler with a genuine business need to provide personal information outside China may do so if it does one of the following:

  • Passes a security assessment organized by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), if the export is made by a critical information infrastructure operator or a personal information handler handling personal information in volumes exceeding 100,000 people.
  • Undergoes personal information protection certification by a specialized agency.
  • Concludes a contract with the overseas recipient in the standard form promulgated by the CAC.
  • Fulfills other requirements prescribed by laws, regulations or the CAC.

The personal information handler must take necessary measures to ensure the overseas recipient’s personal information handling meets the personal information protection standards specified in the PIPL.

Shipping data is relied on to provide information on cargo volumes and helps companies predict bottlenecks and optimize shipping routes. This data is ordinarily fed into the Universal Automatic Identification System (AIS), a civilian information system that makes it possible to exchange data between ship- and land-based systems. The AIS is basically an anti-collision system for vessels at sea. Without the shipping location data from mainland China, home to six of the world’s 10 busiest container ports, the AIS cannot provide comprehensive ocean supply chain visibility. With the Christmas season approaching, an already strained global supply chain is likely to be further squeezed.