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Two Chinese Netizens Punished for Using VPN

China uses the Great Firewall to shield (its Netizens) from foreign websites. As a result, a large population of Chinese people use circumvention technologies to connect to the rest of the world. One of them is the Virtual Private Network (VPN), which extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

On January 4, a resident in Shaoguan City, Guangdong Province, was charged with “creating and using illegal channels to connect to the  international network without authorization” and was fined 1,000 Yuan (US$ 148). A police “Administrative Penalty Decision” was spread online, showing that during the period from August to December 2018, the offender installed the Lantern Pro application on his mobile phone, connected to the broadband network at home to circumvent the Internet blockade, and logged on 487 times in the week before the punishment. Around the same time, another netizen in Chongqing received a notice form local police for the same charge.

Jyh An Lee, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said this is the not first case of punishment. Since 2017, there have been a number of such stories.

According to Article 6 of the Interim Provisions on the Administration of International Network Management of the Computer Information Network of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as the “Interim Provisions”), “To carry out international networking of computer information, the output and input channels that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications provides in its public telecommunication network shall be used. No unit or individual may establish or use other channels for international networking. The public security organ may give a warning to those who violate this regulation and impose a fine of up to 15,000 yuan.

On January 22, 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice and decided to inspect the network infrastructure, network address, and broadband access network resources from the same day to March 31, 2018.

On July 1, 2017, GreenVPN, a brand name VPN service provider with a large number of users, stopped service. Later, more VPN service providers terminated their operations at the request of the regulatory authorities, including Tianhang VPN and Cloud Wall VPN. In 2017, Apple took down 674 VPN applications in the China Store app using the excuse that it was breaking Chinese law.

Lee said that the only legal channel to connect to overseas servers is through the three major telecom operators (China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom). Other forms of connection are illegal channels according to the “Interim Regulations.”

Lee added that the Chinese authorities used to technically block IP and it has now begun to enforce it legally.

According to conservative estimates, there are currently 20 to 30 million Chinese Internet users using VPN. Lee said that, for such a large population, the measures that the authorities take are selectively enforcement and depend upon the behavior’s impact on the government and the extent to which the government feels sensitive.

Source: BBC Chinese, January 10, 2019