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China Great Firewall Censoring

It seems that Huxley’s Brand New World has finally come and it is here to stay, this time for good. Nowhere is this privacy violation so apparent than in the Republic of China, and all because of its censorship project that started about fourteen years ago.

Golden Shield Project, aka GSP, of which Great Firewall of China is just one small part, was designed to block potentially unfavorable information that came from foreign countries.  Over the years, it has developed into a real surveillance machine, not only blocking certain websites (Google, Facebook, Pinterest included) and filtering key words out of searches but also storing information about Chinese users.

China tightened the strength of the Great Firewall blocking VPNs

With the new regulation in practice since June 2017, China has tightened the hold on its citizens even more, requesting internet operators, such as instant messaging services, to force their clients to sign up with their real names and personal data, thus limiting their anonymity online. What’s more, the law also includes Data localization, forcing crucial information infrastructure operators to gather and store their customers’ data within China.

In order to escape such a tight grip of Chine, its citizens have started using virtual private networks (VPNs), which enabled them access to the restricted websites and  still allowed them certain amount of anonymity. VPNs work by routing the traffic from Chinese clients overseas to a distant connection, enabling clients to surf the Internet without having to worry about their location data being stored or not being able to access restricted resources.

However, this clever attempt to get over the Great Firewall of China has been thwarted, as the Chinese government started crackdown on virtual private network operators. From July 1 this year one of the most popular virtual private network operators in China GreenVPN ceased its virtual private network services due to the orders from regulatory departments. Another example of restricted VPN services can be found in Smartphone users of the SuperVPN operator who weren’t able to use their services during the weekend, either because of a glitch or due to the government restrictions.

Prior to the restrictions above mentioned, the government of China ordered its three state-owned telecommunications companies, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, to completely block access to virtual private networks with the tendency to block all VPNs, foreign  ones included, by 2018, thus making VPN usage illegal without their approval.

Next to the restrictions, the new legislation forces companies to provide technical support to agencies by censoring traffic that is considered “prohibited” when it comes to national security.  What this “technical support” means is not clearly stated within the legislation, hence why there is a suspicion among the experts that the government could request from companies to provide encryption backdoors and force them to oversee their users, and all in the name of technical support.

When it comes to “prohibited” content, it is still unclear what precisely the Chinese government has in mind, as the likes of Facebook and Google are marked as “prohibited”, though the legislation does state that acts which encourage “overthrowing the socialist system”, “spreading false information to disturb economic order” and the like, are considered criminal and punishable as such. 

Chinese Human Rights Watch (HRW) did raise their voice against such a restricting law, pointing to the danger of government control over an already heavily censored media, but it was all in vain. 

Many have also pointed out the colossal consequence that the Great Firewall of China will have on foreign businesses, as VPNs are often used for securing company’s data and communicating with company headquarters, as well as on software developers and academics. The former due to their dependence on code hosted on sites that are not based in Chine, and the latter due to their access to overseas journals and communication with universities, that is to say, their lack of both.

This is not the first time the Republic of China has introduced VPNs bans, as every high-level government meeting held in Beijing was followed by a certain amount of censorship. But it seems that this time it is for good, at least, their intentions to keep VPNs out of Chinese Internet are firmly set.

What is to come of all the surveillance and data storing we are yet to see! 



 

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