China tries to ease fears over impact of VPN crackdown
Ministry tells foreign firms latest measures won’t affect companies that have approval to circumvent ‘Great Firewall’
Beijing has tried to play down concerns over the impact of its crackdown on unauthorised
virtual private network (VPN) services, which help mainland internet users bypass government censorship.
In a statement posted on Tuesday night, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the crackdown would not affect multinationals that had obtained governmental approval to use cables or other means of cross-border connectivity.
The crackdown, set to run until the end of March 2018, was aimed at companies and individuals renting cables or VPNs without regulatory approval, it said.
The ministry did not specify how Beijing would deal with VPN service providers based outside of China.
But it said “unauthorised” internet services were illegal and could “disrupt normal market
order, damage legitimate interests of users, and bring risks to national cyberspace and information security”.
The ministry announced on Sunday that all special cable and VPN services needed to obtain prior government approval – a move making most VPN providers illegal.
As China blocks many of the world’s most visited websites – including Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – many internet users rely on VPN services to get round the blocks and access them.
These VPN services have undermined Beijing’s “Great Firewall” – one of the world’s most
extensive and sophisticated censorship apparatuses – and a cat-and-mouse game has been going on for years between the authorities and VPN providers.
The last major crackdown on VPNs was in March 2016, during the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Many companies complained at the time that their paid-for VPN services were not functioning for up to a week.
The latest notice from the ministry has made it clear that all special cable and VPN services require prior government approval to operate in China.
Golden Frog, the Switzerland-based provider of VyprVPN, which has a large Chinese client base, said on Monday that Beijing’s updated regulations had “effectively outlawed VPNs within China”.
Elizabeth Kintzele, a director at the company, said this was the first time Beijing had come out and declared these services illegal, although the crackdown had so far mainly targeted unauthorised VPN providers based in China, rather than overseas providers.
VPNDada.com, a website with a mission to “help internet users in China find reliable VPN services”, said after the new crackdown was announced that it would become increasingly difficult to find such services on the mainland.
This was because local VPN providers would be shut down and overseas VPN firms would face enhanced blocking measures, it said.
However, the site said it did not expect the government to prosecute individuals for using a VPN.