Purpose: The primary objective of the present research is to identify the basic tools and restrictions concerning the protection of privacy and personal data in the EU and China as two fundamentally different cultural systems. Based on the socio-cultural analysis of backgrounds, trends and expert assessments, the research aims to examine whether privacy protection standards, such as those provided by the GDPR in the EU, are sufficiently robust to endure the digital age. Two different cultural frameworks have been analysed in order to understand their influence on practical behaviours regarding the democratic safeguards in privacy rights enforcement in the EU compared with China. This is accomplished by comparing social control in the EU and the social credit system in China. Design/Methodology/Approach: Considering the administrative context, a combined qualitative approach is applied, including normative and dogmatic methods, literature analysis, sociological and historical methods, expert interviews, and comparative and axiological methods. Findings: The results of both theoretical and empirical parts of the research suggest that the stricter regulation in the EU compared to China – in the sense of more consistent protection of privacy and personal data as well as transparency rights – can be attributed to its democratic protection of human rights and more definitive regulations, particularly the GDPR. These major differences seem to create an even deeper gap in the future, to be explored scientifically and in practice. The authors conclude that authorities must actively guarantee the rights related to privacy and personal data protection, or else effective governance will lead to a surveillance society and erosion of individuals’ freedom as a valuable civilizational asset. Academic contribution to the field: The research contributes to administrative science by addressing one of the key concepts of modern public governance, namely the collision between the principles of effectiveness and transparency on the one hand and privacy on the other. The use of scientific methods paves the way for further comparisons. Practical Implications: The article provides a concise overview of the relevant literature and an analysis of the rules that underpin the implementation, evaluation and improvement of regulations, especially in the light of ICT development, e.g. in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Originality/Value: The paper bridges the gap created by the differences in the understanding of privacy and public governance in the field in the EU and China based on cultural differences. The usual general or merely law- or technology-based analyses are upgraded with a combination of various research methods.