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China Officially Outlaws Unauthorised VPNs

The Great Firewall of China. Image from Digital Trends.

The Great Firewall of China. Image from Digital Trends.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it will ban “illegal services” that carry out cross-border operations, including virtual private networks (VPNs), until March 2018.

A 17 January announcement on the Ministry's website reads:

各基础电信企业应加强线路资源管理,严格审核租用方资质和用途,不得向无相应电信业务经营许可的企业和个人提供用于经营 IDC、ISP、CDN 等业务的网络基础设施和 IP 地址、带宽等网络接入资源。

All Internet Service Providers [will be required] to review and censor their clients’ usage of server resources and they should stop providing service to companies and individuals who do not have license to operate Internet Data Center (IDC), Internet Service Provider (ISP) and content distribution network (CDN) and run services that provide resources for internet services, IP addresses and connections.

未经电信主管部门批准,不得自行建立或租用专线(含虚拟专用网络 VPN)等其他信道开展跨境经营活动。

Without [the Ministry's] approval, no one shall set up or rent special lines (including VPNs) to carry out cross-border operations.

The new regulation implies that all VPN providers have to register and report to the authorities. If they fail to do this, they'll be viewed as illegal and subject to punishment.

Shanghai-based IT expert Li Yi explained that the move is intended to further “purify” the domestic network. He told state-affiliated media outlet Global Times:

Some multinational companies in China such as Microsoft Corp have a reasonable need to communicate with their headquarters overseas via VPNs, but sometimes these corporations or individual [employees] will browse overseas Internet pages out of illegal motivations. In this regard, the new rules are extremely important.

“Illegal motivations” include getting access to overseas websites which are blocked in mainland China and hosting servers for websites with domain names registered outside China.

According to the revised Internet Domain Name Management Rules, all websites hosted in China must register their domain names with authorized domestic domain name service providers in order to gain access to the Chinese network. Companies that fail to do this are simply not connected to China's domestic network.

The Chinese government has been blocking some VPN services in China since 2015, but the current policy has officially made unregistered VPN and web-hosting services illegal.

According to the Global Web Index (2016 Q4):

over 90 million online adults in China have used one to access restricted social platforms.

Major social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China. But sources from Twitter have stated that the platform has 10 million active users in China, the majority of whom rely on VPNs to access Twitter's website. The figures also imply that the number of critical minds in China is expanding despite the government’s determination to create a highly censored domestic network.

Last week at the World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed that China would defend globalization. As Twitterer @chowhf noted free information flow has nothing to do with globalization in China:

In China's tech community, many expressed the worries that China is closing its door to the world:

Is such regulation even constitutional?

Shutting the door to the world, China is becoming north Korea.

This is not about management. They are worried that Chinese people see the real China.

Of course, the regulation only applies to “illegal VPNs” — the technology will not be eliminated entirely. For example, China's civilization army will still be able to use VPNs to spread political propaganda outside the Great Fire Wall.

As Twitter user wentommy pointed out:

MIIT has stepped in to control VPN services, what will be the impact to online groups? Last year on January 20 [after Tsai Ing-wen won the Taiwan president election], millions of youths climbed over the wall to perform patriotism. With the support of party organizations, they can act boldly. Who is behind us? our leader is… Chairman Mao!

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