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Cybersecurity

Chongqing police to punish those skirting China’s Great Firewall

Security authorities update rules that target individuals and companies seeking to get around censors, with warning of fines

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 2:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 12:19am

Security authorities in the Chinese city of Chongqing have expanded regulations that govern web access, in a bid to plug holes in the Great Firewall that separates mainlanders from the global internet.

The updated regulations, issued by the city’s public security bureau, provide a detailed manual for police to punish minor offences – namely activities not serious enough to warrant criminal charges – relating to internet connections.

Forget the Great Firewall ... China is beefing up its ability to police all cyberspace

They ban individuals and organisations from establishing or using channels to connect to international networks, and target businesses that help users to connect to such services.

The rules came into effect in July 2016 but the details were published on the government’s website only on Monday.

Compared to regulations released in 2011, the updated ones are more specific, showing the authority’s growing sophistication in policing the internet.

Anyone who violates the rules will be ordered to disconnect from the internet and receive a warning. Anyone who uses such channels to make a profit of more than 5,000 yuan (HK$5,655) will be fined 5,000 to 15,000 yuan. Any ill-gotten gains will also be seized.

The regulations, which are valid until the end of July 2021, target both companies and individuals trying to bypass censors. In the previous version, only organisations were subject to fines.

Mainland China has been tightening control over the internet in recent years as it seeks to establish cyberspace sovereignty.

Beijing continues to block popular websites, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, and heavily censor domestic websites, while also stepping up efforts to crack down on services such as virtual private networks (VPN) that help people access banned websites.

Authorities are especially concerned about containing “risk factors” this year as the Communist Party prepares for a top leadership reshuffle this autumn.

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Beijing has launched a 14-month nationwide campaign against unauthorised internet connections, including VPN services, which ends March next year.

A notice released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in January said that all special cable and VPN services required prior government approval to operate – a move that makes most VPN service providers illegal. But strict control over the internet has sparked complaints from scholars and businesspeople. Several delegates attending China’s “two sessions” political meetings this month called for freer access to the internet, but their proposal was either censored or went unreported on the mainland.

Internet users expressed anger at the latest regulations. “I’m working in foreign trade and I need to skirt around the Great Firewall every day,” one user wrote on news website 163.com. “Now I know I could be fined and I want to know what kind of action is not ‘unauthorised’.”

Another user wrote: “Who said China’s internet has freedom and equality?”