China has ordered a 14-month-long nationwide campaign to crack down on unauthorised internet connections, including virtual private networks (VPNs) which allow users to access blocked overseas websites and information by evading the nation’s infamous ‘Great Firewall’.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology yesterday said that all special cable and VPN services in China are needed to obtain prior government approval – a move that makes most VPN service providers in the country illegal.
VPN services allow users to bypass the Great Firewall – a vast censorship apparatus that blocks China’s 730 million internet users from accessing information on sensitive subjects such as Tibet or the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The move is a setback for China-based foreign community as most of the diplomats, foreign journalists and tourists use VPNs to access internet to check email or overseas websites.
It has come as China today boasted that its internet connections touched 731 million, more than the population of Europe.
The “clean up” of the nation’s internet connections would start immediately and run until March 31, 2018, the notice by the ministry said.
“China’s internet connection service market…Has signs of disordered development that requires urgent regulation and governance,” the ministry said.
Without VPN being administered by external networks, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms can not be accessed as they are either banned or restricted. Harsh criticism of China’s government is also censored.
Since China began controlling access to internet in the mid-1990s, activists and developers have worked to find ways that help people circumvent the firewall. And a cat-and-mouse game has been going on for years between Chinese authorities and VPN service providers.
The last major crackdown on VPN was in March 2016 during the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing. Many companies complained that their paid-for VPN services were not functioning for up to a week.