THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT has started clamping down on individuals using virtual private networks (VPNs) to evade the 'Great Firewall of China' by issuing the first fines for contravening the ban, introduced in 1997.
The ban on VPNs also affects businesses operating in China, which are required to only use VPNs licensed and approved by China's government.
It comes as Chinese citizen Zhu Yunfeng was fined Rmb1,000 ($145) for using a popular VPN service. The fine represents about one-fifth of the average monthly wage in Zhu's home city of Shaoguan in Guangdong province.
According to the Financial Times, Zhu had used the Lantern VPN app, popular in China, to access websites out of China. He was prosecuted under a public security law introduced in 1997 that forbids access to the 'foreign internet' without permission.
While the law is more than 20 years old, it has rarely been enforced until now, with China's President Xi Jinping (recently made president for life) clamping down on dissent and tightening controls on internet usage.
"Over the past couple of years, the Chinese authorities have made legitimate headway in shutting down and limiting the use of VPNs from within China," Charlie Smith of Greatfire.org, a censorship watchdog, told the FT. "But we have rarely seen individual VPN users get targeted in this way."
China's 1997 public security law was beefed up in 2017 with new regulations designed to shut down VPNs not approved by the government. Multinationals operating in China, including companies with valuable intellectual property to protect, have even had their internet access cut-off entirely for failing to use an approved VPN provider, the FT claimed.
Apple, meanwhile, has bowed to Chinese government demands by removing 674 VPN apps from its App Store in China.
Freedom House, meanwhile, suggests that between 20 million and 30 million in China - out of a population of more than 1.4 billion - got round the Great Firewall in 2018, with VPN usage surging during periods such as elections in Taiwan, which the Chinese government claims is part of China.
Last year, China was also accused of using state-owned telecoms company's access to internet points-of-presence outside of China - a privilege that isn't reciprocated - to conduct BGP hijacking attacks and temporarily re-direct internet traffic. µ
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