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China cracks down on "unauthorized" VPNs

The Communist Party of China has decided to crack down further on their control of the internet, targeting VPNs. The new law would make "unauthorized" VPNs illegal, and would require the companies to obtain government approval in order to operate. It is unclear what is involved in the "approval" process.

For years, VPNs (virtual private networks) that allow users to bypass China's blanket restrictions on internet traffic have been a staple tool for foreigners trying to get work done on connect with friends and family. Most popular English-language websites are blocked in the authoritarian country, including Google Mail, Search, Maps, Docs, YouTube, Yahoo, Blogspot, facebook, Instagram, and many more. Previously operating in a gray area of legality, China's Ministry of Industry and Informational Technology announced yesterday a plan to crackdown on VPNs by requiring government approval to operate.

While the Communist Party has had the ability to shut down VPNs if they wanted for years, they have generally have only reserved that action for "sensitive" times of the year (such as the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4th 1989) or if there is a major unexpected political disturbance or event. This may change now that the Party has elected to crack down further on the "disordered development" of the internet, according to their official statement—a move made in light of the upcoming once-a-decade Party reshuffle, say analysts.

The change would give the government a legal framework within which VPN companies would have to operate if they wanted to stay in the Chinese market. This could be used as leverage to force companies to share information with the Chinese government, include backdoor access, or require the companies to pay fees to "legally" access the market.


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Douglas Black, 2017-01-25 (Update: 2017-01-25)