18 Apr China Declares VPN Services as Illegal and Fortifies The ‘Great Firewall’
With China’s increased censorship, dubbed as the Great Firewall, the country has blocked residents from accessing 135 out of 1000 websites including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube. Now, it has made an even bigger step to a technical crackdown by launching a 14-month nationwide campaign against unauthorized internet connections, which includes virtual private network (VPN) services.
The country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released a notice last January stating that all special cable and VPN services in mainland China are required to obtain a government approval before continuing their services. This would mean most VPN providers would be rendered illegal. The crackdown has already started and will continue until March 21, 2018.
The ministry said that “China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance” and therefore this crackdown aims to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”.
Foreigners, especially businessmen, have said that this increased measure has affected their business and day-to-day life. The Chinese government blocks websites which contain politically sensitive issues to prevent their users from obtaining it. VPN services were the solution for people who wanted to access the blocked sites, but since VPNs are also blocked, they are left with fewer access to websites. But the government says that they did this measure ‘for safety’.
Although VPN services were blocked on mobile phones, China hasn’t restricted the use of VPNs in large companies, which are of greater use compared to normal users. So far, Google-based business tools have also been blocked.
Xiao Qiang, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, said in a statement last year that, “China is in the middle of a very ferocious power struggle or political cleansing under the name of an anti-corruption campaign. That to me is a very clearly related fact with the amount of political rumors and information related to China’s high politics showing up in websites outside of China.”
Despite the restrictions, some VPN providers are trying to restore access to their servers in China. This is to address the complaints of many users who are paying for VPN services – whether normal internet users or small-sized foreign companies.