China's VPN Crackdown Aimed at 'Illegal Users'

By Gary Bailer, July 26, 2017

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Has your Internet felt a lot more ‘regulated’ recently?

Then you might be one of the ‘illegal users’ being targeted after VPN rules were announced in January, according to a Global Times report on a Tuesday Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) press conference. 

The rules addressed domestic telecom companies, clarifying that providing VPN services would require government approval, according to a January article by the Global Times. It also seems to have heralded a widescale crackdown on VPN services used by individuals, with popular Hong Kong-based GreenVPN shutting shop.

An report on the MIIT conference said stepped up regulations would not affect ‘law-abiding companies and individuals.’

But under the tightened rules, who would be approved?

Global Times offered this:

[Spokesperson] Zhang stressed that some foreign companies or multinational enterprises who need to use VPN for business reasons can rent special lines from telecommunication operators that legally provide such services, and that the regulation will not affect their normal operations. In response to questions about the approval standards, Zhang said that all basic telecommunication operations including VPN services need to be approved by the government.

On June 29, an ExpressVPN customer representative explained that the rules were focused on domestic Internet providers: “As far as we understand the regulations do not apply to VPN services like ExpressVPN or individual customers of ours.”

And on July 18, WhatsApp saw service disruptions in Chinese mainland, with users reporting they couldn't send pictures or audio. WhatsApp declined to comment on the issue and service later returned to normal.

A July 10 Bloomberg Technology report claimed Chinese Internet carriers would be blocking personal VPNs by February, but was later denied by the MIIT.

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