It’s no secret that China has some of the strict internet censorship laws in the world. More than 60 Internet regulations have been created by the government of China, which have been implemented by provincial branches of state-owned ISPs, companies, and organizations.
Citizens in China usually make use of VPN (Virtual Private Network) and Proxy services to bypass the nation’s infamous Great Firewall, also known as the Golden Shield project, which employs a variety of tricks to censor the Internet in the country. VPN helps Chinese citizens encrypt their Internet traffic and route it through a distant connection so that they can hide their identities and location data while accessing websites that are usually restricted or censored by the country.
Earlier this year, to strengthen the country’s rule of law and cyberspace security, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a ban on “unauthorized” VPN services, making it mandatory for companies to obtain an appropriate license from the government in order to operate in the country. It has even announced stiff fines and punishments for those who access the Internet using VPNs outside the Great Firewall. The authorities also announced that they would launch a 14-months-long coordinated campaign to take down all unauthorized VPN providers.
Just recently, a man in southern China has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail for selling a non-licensed VPN service from 2013 until this June that helped thousands of users illegally bypass Great Firewall.
The man named Wu Xiangyang, from the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, was also fined 500,000 yuan ($76,405)—an amount equal to the profit he has made since starting the VPN service four years ago, according to a report in the newspaper of China’s national prosecutor’s office. The man was convicted of collecting “illegal revenue” of 792,638 yuan ($120,500) from his unlicensed business.
This wasn’t the first sentencing made in China for selling a VPN service without holding a proper license. In March this year, another Chinese citizen, Deng Jiewei, was also sentenced to nine months in jail with a fine of 5,000 yuan, for selling unauthorized VPNs on his website.
To get ahead of the impending crackdown, tech giants like Apple and Amazon, too, have moved to limit their customers’ access to the tools in China. In July 2017, Apple removed tens of VPN apps from the Chinese version of the App Store.