China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology yesterday announced a major crackdown on VPN (virtual private network) services that encrypt Internet traffic and let residents access websites blocked by the country’s so-called Great Firewall. The ministry “said that all special cable and VPN services on the mainland needed to obtain prior government approval—a move making most VPN service providers in the country of 730 million Internet users illegal,” reported the South China Morning Post, a major newspaper in Hong Kong.
China’s announcement said the country’s Internet service market “has signs of disordered development that requires urgent regulation and governance” and that the crackdown is needed to “strengthen cyberspace information security management,” according to the Post. The government said its crackdown would begin immediately and run until March 31, 2018.
Numerous Internet users in China rely on VPNs to access sites blocked or censored by the government’s Great Firewall, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Dropbox, The Pirate Bay, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many others. Apple recently pulled New York Times apps from its Chinese App Store to comply with Chinese regulations.
China’s tightening of its already strict Internet censorship may be preparation for this autumn’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, at which new party leadership will be elected. Besides the VPN crackdown, China on Saturday shut down “two websites run by a liberal Chinese think tank” and 15 other websites, the Post reported.