Chinese Internet Users React After Authorities Target Citizens for Using VPNs

Chinese Internet Users React After Authorities Target Citizens for Using VPNs

The News Lens
Date: 2019/01/15
By: Oiwan Lam

Credit: Reuters / TPG

Two Chinese internet users are currently facing punishment for doing what an estimated 1-3 percentof people living in China do every day: access the global internet.

Among other methods, many internet users in China depend on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to skirt or circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” (GFW), the robust filtering system that blocks sensitive information and overseas websites from China’s domestic network.

While VPN use is permitted in certain contexts – mainly for government agencies and large private companies – China’s vigorous internet control regime has in recent years put significant resources towards preventing internet users from using these and other similar tools.

In June 2017, the government enacted a Cybersecurity Law that codified a growing set of rules on internet use and content, strengthening internet operator responsibilities and duties, and demanding real-name registration of individual internet users. The legislation also addressed VPNs. It directly compelled Apple to take down VPN apps from its China app store, and it appears to have triggered multiple arrests of individuals selling unlicensed VPNs.

The new law does not explicitly address or criminalize the individual use of such technologies. And while it sends a clear signal about what types of technology off limits, many Chinese netizens continue to believe that using circumvention tools will not bring them trouble. But two new “administrative punishment” cases may change this.

In December, a Shaoguan resident was fined 1000 RMB (roughly US$163) for setting up and using a VPN to access the internet. The Guangdong Public Security Enforcement Information Platform posted a report detailing his punishment.

Zhu Yunfeng, 30, was using Lantern Pro, a mobile app and circumvention tool that connects users to a decentralized network of nodes that can relay user traffic to any website, regardless of censorship barriers.

Unable to justify Zhu’s punishment under the new cybersecurity law, public security officials instead cited Articles 6 and 14 of the 1996 “Rules for Provisional Regulations of the Administration of International Networking of Computer Information in the People’s Republic of China”.

Article 6 stipulates that when connecting to an international network from within China, all computer devices must use infrastructure provided by state-licensed telecoms. Any individual or organization that is not state-licensed is forbidden from offering or building alternative information channels to access the international network. Although Lantern is a globally recognized circumvention tool, it does not have a state-issued license in China.

On Jan. 4, a similar case unfolded in Chongqing, where Huang Chengcheng was summoned by policeon the same charges as Zhu. But authorities have not disclosed the details of his case.

Both cases indicate that today, the very act of circumventing the internet through an unregistered channel is considered illegal.    [FULL  STORY]