Wednesday, August 9, 2017

VPN Ban to Close Loophole of The Great Firewall

By Asia Pop Culture

Citing 'people familiar with the matter', Bloomberg reported last month that China’s government has told telecommunications carriers like China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom to block individuals’ access to virtual private networks (VPNs) by Feb. 1, 2018.

A VPN is a third-party service that routes web traffic through servers in another country or location. The Great Firewall has had some success in keeping local Internet users from accessing foreign sites including social media such as Twitter, Facebook and even news and information sites.  However, for the longest time, many in China, business as well as individuals, have used VPNs to get around the censorship restrictions such as the Great Firewall by Beijing to access "banned" sites.

Most of the "banned" sites are part of everyday life in the West (and Taiwan), but prohibited in China because they will not allow the Communist Party access to their data. In fact, censorship is a big factor that Google quit China.

In addition to the Great Firewall, Chinese government also conducts rigorous surveillance of message boards and social media.  Numerous people have been charged and imprisoned because of something they have posted online.

VPNs exist in a legal gray area of China, with few entities granted access to use them legally. VPNs are commonly used by universities, businesses, media organizations and expatriates.  After the Bloomberg report, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology claimed “ the foreign media reported falsely” and provided an 'explanation'.

At first blush, based on what the Ministry told, a Chinese news website, under its new provisions, all cable and VPN services are now required to obtain prior government authorization before being used for business activities beyond China’s borders.

Of course, the Ministry neither did not elaborate on the detail as to who could be authorized to use a VPN.  No doubt the issue could become a new gray area to trip up many private citizens and business entities in China.  By the way, Comrade Putin in Russia last month also signed the bill prohibiting VPNs and other technologies that anonymize users.

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