THE LAND of the Great Firewall has struck again: China’s ruling Communist Party has ordered local telecommunication companies to begin blocking personal access to virtual private networks (VPN), the latest development in the government’s crackdown on dissent and public access to the Internet.
Sources told Bloomberg state-run telcos such as China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telcom received their marching orders with a Feb 1, 2018, deadline. VPNs are used as a loophole around China’s strict Internet policies to access blocked content from overseas, and the Internet is rife with plenty of free and paid options. The new policy will likely make accessing sites by both locals and foreigners much more difficult.
— Business Insider (@businessinsider) July 7, 2017
China’s President Xi Jinping launched a “cybersovereignty” campaign this year. His government has since taken major steps such as the recently enacted Cyber Law which has seriously curtailed the reach and movements of media companies, social media sites and digital publishers. The VPN order is evidence the cracks Internet users could once rely on to slip around the Great Firewall are being plugged ruthlessly.
“This seems to impact individuals,” said Jake Parker, Beijing-based vice-president of the US-China Business Council to Bloomberg. He noted VPNs are largely used by corporations who rely on global services outside of China and this new rule could make life difficult for businesses who are already in a tough situation due to higher compliance costs imposed by the new cyber rules.
“In the past, any effort to cut off internal corporate VPNs has been enough to make a company think about closing or reducing operations in China. It’s that big a deal,” he said.
Indeed, the VPN crackdown might show signs of being problematic as the Industry and Information Technology Ministry has said in the past corporations could use such technology within the company itself. It’s unclear precisely what the total effect of the VPN ban would be, as individual policing such use could prove difficult, though the minister did pledge back in January to clamp down on VPN usage.
But leave it to China to figure out how to tighten its leash around its population’s media and information consumption. The country is famous for its tight regulations on free Internet in order to protect social stability, as well as preserving its long history of suppressing dissent. Social sites such as Twitter and Facebook are banned in the country, while recently Tencent’s wildly popular social game was derided as being too addictive by a state-run daily.