China Just Made VPNs Illegal
Jan 24, 2017 11:34 AM EST
The Great Firewall just got more impenetrable. China launched a 14-month nationwide campaign making unauthorized connections, including virtual private network services or VPNs, illegal. VPNs actually allow users to bypass the country's infamous "Great Firewall."
On Sunday, a notice released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that all special cable and VPN services on the mainland will need to obtain prior government approval, a move making VPNs illegal. Calling it a "clean-up" of China's internet connections, the Ministry said the new rules would start immediately and run until March 31, 2018. Further, the campaign aims to "strengthen cyberspace information security management."
China making VPNs illegal is just one of the many steps the government authorities undertook on unregulated internet connections. The state blocks access of the world's top websites including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. In addition, search terms and contents deemed unfavorable by the Chinese state, particular references to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and various Chinese officials are also censored from the Chinese web. Many internet users on the mainland actually rely on the VPN services to access blocked sites and services.
VPNs were already subject to government scrutiny and interference in China. The most recent large-scale crackdown happened in March 2016 during the National People's Congress meeting in Beijing, the South China Morning Post reports. During the event, many companies complained that their paid VPN services were not functioning for a week. The latest crackdown also caused a stir on the internet with some expressing fears of losing touch with the outside world. One Weibo user said, "So many people are laughing at how Trump is building a wall near Mexico while we are unaware that we have been thickening our wall. The more we monitor, the more we lose."
According to the Washington Post, China's regulations on making VPNs illegal are vague. It's unclear how the government will implement it but it seems like Chinese officials are aiming at companies who provide VPNs to individual citizens rather than professionals working for multinational corporations. Notably, China isn't the only country that censors internet access but as well as Egypt, Russia, Cuba, Bahrain, Turkey, and Vietnam. Back in July, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the act and upheld online privacy as freedom of expression.