China Tightens Grip On Internet Censorship With 14 Month VPN Crackdown

The use of unauthorised virtual private networks will be made illegal by the Chinese government

China has started a crackdown on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass its Great Firewall, which prevents Chinese Internet users from accessing websites not approved by the government.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information announced a 14 month drive to curtail and outlaw the use of VPN that have not been granted government approval.

China’s VPN crackdown

Chinese Censored TOP ChinaBy disguising the web browsing activities of user, VPNs are commonly used by Internet users in China to access websites censored or restricted by the Chinese government through the use of a massive web content control and surveillance system dubbed the Great Firewall.

Used as a political tool to block dissidents from accessing information and web content that is critical or opposed to the government or addressed controversial political events such as the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

In a translation of public notice from the Ministry of Industry and Information, the Chinese government noted it is looking to “clean-up” the use of VPNs in order to promote the “healthy and orderly development” of China’s growing Internet based industries, such as cloud computing and big data use.

It would appear that the crackdown will only affect VPN being hosted in China, so international enterprises operating in China or looking to forge new opportunities in the Chinese market could still protect the privacy and governance of their and their customers’ data through the use of VPN services hosted outside of China.

However, those using domestic VPN will need to be aware that the VPN providers will be forced to register their services with the Chinese authorities, potentially leading to them being pressed to share user information to with the government.

For Chinese citizens looking to access blocked services such as Google and Twitter, they will now need to be cautions about the type of VPNs they opt to use, as the government looks to further encroach upon their Internet freedoms and privacy.

The flipside to the crackdown is the potential for it to drive Chinese Internet users to find new ways to bypass the Great Firewall that are not dependent on VPNs, and given how privacy-protecting services grow as fast as surveillance technology, it would come as no surprise if keen web users quickly find their way around the crackdown and access non-approved websites.

Quiz: What do you know about China and technology?