China tightens Great Firewall; cracks down on illegal VPN

Beijing, Jan 23 (IANS) China has launched a 14-month nationwide campaign to crack down on unauthorised internet connections, including virtual private networks (VPN) services — a technology that allows users to bypass the countrys infamous Great Firewall, media reported on Monday.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post cited a notice on Sunday by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology requiring all special cable and VPN services on the mainland to obtain prior government approval — a move making most VPN service providers in the country of 730 million internet users illegal.

Many web sites and social networking websites like Google and Facebook, among others, are banned in China.

The “clean up” of the nation’s internet connections would start immediately and run until March 31, 2018, the newspaper said citing the notice.

“China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that requires urgent regulation and governance,” the ministry said.

The crackdown on unregulated internet connections was meant to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”, it said.

China blocked access to 135 out of 1,000 sites in one ranking of the world’s top websites, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, according to Greatfire.org, an organisation that monitors mainland online censorship.

As a result, many internet users in China rely on VPN services to access blocked sites and services.

However, a cat-and-mouse game has been going on for years between the Chinese authorities and VPN service providers.

The last major crackdown on VPN was in March 2016 during the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing. Many companies complained that their paid-for VPN services were not functioning for up to a week.

Beijing’s censorship of online information and its control of internet access would be particularly vigilant in 2017 for the once-in-a-decade power reshuffle of the party Congress, analysts said.

In addition to the information technology industry, which regulates the internet’s infrastructure, the Cyberspace Administration of China, a dedicated central internet censorship office, pledged loyalty to the Communist Party leadership headed by President Xi Jinping on January 5.

The officials issued a statement which declared one of their priorities in 2017 would be to cultivate an online environment that was “conducive to a successful 19th party Congress”.

Two days ago, two websites run by a liberal Chinese think tank, along with other 15 websites, were shut down as censorship tightens ahead of the Communist Party meeting.

–IANS

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