It’s no secret that China exercises an immense amount of control over what its citizens can read or do online. Since 1997, the Chinese Internet has been behind a ‘great firewall’. Facebook, Twitter, even The New York Times – it’s all banned.
One way around this is with a VPN, which allows you to tunnel your Internet through another computer. These can be located in countries where there isn’t pervasive Internet censorship, like the United States, Sweden, or Canada.
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China has repeatedly tried to crack down on these, but with limited success. It’s proven to be a cat-and-mouse game. For each provider it blocks, another emerges. But now, it’s published legislation that could finally make most VPN providers illegal, according to the South China Morning Post.
The legislation is part of a ‘clean up’ of China’s Internet that’s expected to run until March 31, 2018. It mandates that for VPN providers to remain within the law, they must first gain approval from the Chinese government. Approval that few providers are likely to ask for, given that the majority of them are used to skirt the country’s extensive censorship and surveillance apparatus.
According to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, “China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance.”
It added that the crackdown will “strengthen cyberspace information security management.”
This crackdown comes at an interesting time. China is about to undertake its 19th national congress of the Communist Party of Power, which will see many positions shuffled. Given the authoritarian leanings of the country’s government and the potentially turbulent changeover, it’s obvious why it’d want to tighten its grip on the Internet.