China cracks down on tools used to get around web filters

Beijing — China is beefing up a campaign to root out services that circumvent the government's internet censorship with a 14-month-long "clean-up" of the internet industry.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a directive that it forbids the operation of virtual private networks (VPNs) or leased lines that allow users and businesses to access blocked overseas websites without government permission.

Between now and March 2018, authorities will enforce the regulations with inspections of cloud-hosting and content-delivery services, an industry that has shown signs of "disorderly development," the ministry said Sunday.

READ: Why SA voted against internet freedoms at the UN

The new enforcement measures are the latest steps in the Chinese government's efforts to cement its grip over the domestic internet and closely control what information may be accessed by the country's 731 million internet users.

President Xi Jinping's administration has championed a vision of "internet sovereignty" in which governments have the right to wall off their nation's cyberspace from unwanted elements as if it were physical territory.

The censors' reach has extended beyond websites.

Earlier this month, China's top internet regulator said it would begin regulating mobile app store offerings after it found apps that disseminated information it considered illegal or a danger to social stability. The announcement came weeks after Apple removed apps by The New York Times from its app store in China in response to a government request.

READ: Facebook, Twitter too late for China's internet

To get around the government's filters, numerous foreign and domestic companies in China use VPNs to conduct business, and private citizens often use the technology to access banned foreign websites such as Google, Facebook and overseas news outlets.

In response, China has blocked access to VPNs and regularly disrupts their channels.

Wu Xiaodong, director of the China Digital Information and Security Industrial Alliance, said VPN services have previously been targeted by Chinese regulators but never with this degree of clarity.

Under the new directive, all internet service providers, data centers and content distribution networks must be licensed with the government. They must also conduct "self-inspections" for any unlawful activity taking place on their servers, which would include those discreetly providing VPN services.

A co-founder of U.S.-supported anti-censorship group Greatfire.org who goes by the pseudonym Charlie Smith said it was unclear whether the internet services industry would comply with government orders to fully snuff out VPNs.

"They will push back, quietly ... if they deem the cost of running these checks to be too high," said Smith, whose group helps internet users inside China bypass blockages on censored content. "Even the authorities recognize that there are legitimate needs for VPNs and other circumvention services."

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Rand - Dollar
14.15
-0.1%
Rand - Pound
19.94
+0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.18
-0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
10.97
+0.2%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.3%
Gold
1,853.32
+0.5%
Silver
27.60
+0.7%
Palladium
2,908.33
+0.5%
Platinum
1,230.50
+0.1%
Brent Crude
68.71
+2.5%
Top 40
61,071
+0.8%
All Share
67,111
+0.8%
Resource 10
70,214
+1.2%
Industrial 25
84,074
+1.0%
Financial 15
12,613
-0.6%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Company Snapshot
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, and I've gotten it.
21% - 1469 votes
No, I did not.
52% - 3650 votes
My landlord refused
27% - 1941 votes
Vote