A man in Guangdong province was recently ordered by Chinese authorities to pay a RMB1,000 fine for setting up and using an unauthorized VPN. According to South China Morning Post, the man, surnamed Zhu, received the notice on December 28, learning that his actions violated Article 6 of the Provisional Regulations of China’s Administration of International Networking of Computer Information. Zhu is being punished under Article 14 of the same document.
Article 6 of the regulations states that direct international networking must use access channels provided by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, while Article 14 stipulates anyone who violates Articles 6, 8 and 10 may receive a fine up to RMB15,000 and the confiscation of any funds earned from illegal activities. The regulations were promulgated back in 1996, with some people in China’s cyber circles calling for an update to the rules.
In 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) kicked off an illegal VPN crackdown, which has resulted in several people being arrested for selling VPN services and software. In October 2018, a man in Shanghai was fined RMB10,000 and sentenced to three years in prison for operating a website offering illegal VPN software. Another man in Guangxi was sentenced to five and a half years in prison and fined RMB500,000 for selling VPN services online.
According to Global Times, a MIIT spokesperson told media that some foreign or multinational companies who need VPNs are able to rent special lines from telecommunications operators for business purposes.
Aside from this legal loophole to the Great Firewall, other options to access blocked websites appear to violate Chinese law. An interesting study by Top10VPN.com uncovered that over half of free VPN apps available for Apple and Android are Chinese owned, with some of the apps’ privacy policies explicitly stating that they will share your information with third parties in China.
With an increasing number of Chinese students studying abroad (over 600,000 students in 2017 according to data from China Ministry of Education), more young people are being exposed to websites and apps widely used outside of the PRC, such as Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit. In 2017, 480,000 Chinese students returned home from their stints abroad, making a VPN essential to keeping their Snapchat stories alive.
READ MORE: Popular VPN Service Blocked in China
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