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China Defends Blocking of Virtual Private Networks

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Sunday, April 12th, 2015


While the recent blocking of Virtual Private Networks within the country has affected millions of Chinese users and disrupted operations of thousands of businesses, the authorities have defended these measures and deemed the use of tools which let users bypass the strict levels of censorship as illegal. China has been tightening its grip on the internet over the past several months and even high profile sites like Gmail were not spared by the authorities. Most security experts believed that China would never take the extreme step of blocking VPNs due to negative impact the move could have on the businesses but the recent Censorship System Upgrade made to the Great Firewall of China has proved them wrong.

Towards the beginning of the year, many Chinese VPN users reported that they were unable to connect to VPN servers of their service providers. These disruptions not only affected the operations of small VPN players but also services of renowned VPN companies like Astrill, VyprVPN and StrongVPN. While Astrill admitted that their iOS VPN software was not working within the country and the Chinese authorities were successfully blocking VPNs on iPhones in real-time, StrongVPN and VyprVPN reported erratic connections to certain servers. The affected VPN providers blamed the disruptions to the recent updates made to the Great Firewall of China that were specifically targeted towards Virtual Private Networks.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing, Wen Ku, director of telecom development at Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, reiterated that the use of foreign VPNs to access blocked content remains illegal and foreign service providers must abide by the laws of the country. He also added that the government is committed to regulate “unhealthy” content online and will introduce more regulatory measures as the web technology continues to evolve in the future. He also categorically denied that the omnipresent censorship was having a negative impact on the business environment by pointing out that the e-commerce company Alibaba was successful despite the restrictions.

China has also asked foreign VPN service providers who wish to offer services within the country to register with the authorities. People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the government, reported that none of the foreign VPN players have registered themselves with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology so far. It is a different matter altogether that none of the VPN companies are expected to get approvals even if they did try to register with the authorities.

Free speech advocates have lambasted the latest censorship move by the Chinese authorities. Prominent privacy activists have criticized the news of blocking of VPNs as further suppression of freedom of expression and even expressed surprise at the lack of media coverage regarding the issue. Some activists even pointed out that there was no legal basis for the move and said that the step was taken just to protect the interests of the ruling party. They also added that the step appears in line with the recent diktat that appealed to Chinese internet users to be good online citizens and report activities of critics.


April 12, 2015
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