China will block your mobile service if you use a VPN there

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China has begun cracking down on citizens in the mainland who access online content created beyond its borders. The New York Times reports that several residents in Xinjiang who use virtual private network (VPN) software have had their mobile services turned off.

Local police began cutting off cellular connectivity last week for people found using foreign messaging apps and software to evade Chinese internet filters to gain access to international content and services.

An affected citizen from the regional capital of Urumqi, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of further persecution, shared a text message they received from their mobile carrier:

Due to police notice, we will shut down your cellphone number within the next two hours in accordance with the law. If you have any questions, please consult the cyberpolice affiliated with the police station in your vicinity as soon as possible.

It’s unclear as to how many people in Xinjiang have been affected and when they will have their numbers restored. Local mobile carriers have declined to comment or have referred questions to the police.

The Chinese government has spent plenty of time and money to prevent the distribution of information considered “harmful to national security,” beginning its efforts in 1993 with The Golden Shield Project. It’s since spent billions to censor public opinion and to prevent citizens from freely accessing sites that operate outside the country, but people have found tools to get around its system of filters, known as the Great Firewall.

The move to block mobile connectivity signals a sense of urgency in the government’s efforts to more tightly control communication over the internet, in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Nicholas Bequelin, the East Asia director for Amnesty International in Hong Kong noted, “With the West generally going backward in terms of protecting privacy and freedom of expression, China is comforted in its longstanding position that it is the arbiter of what can be said or not.”

China Cuts Mobile Service of Xinjiang Residents Evading Internet Filters [The New York Times]

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