In a move that many people believe is an attempt to circumvent communication including usage of tools that thwart existing restrictions in terms of access to leading websites, Chinese authorities now require prior approval in the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and special cable connections in China.
The China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which announced the new rules, refers to the latest development as a “clean-up” of the country’s internet connections. The new rules would go live immediately and be in place until March 31st, 2018.
A VPN allows secure connection to another network over the Internet. It can be used to access region-restricted websites, shield browsing activity from nosy eyes on public Wi-Fi, and bypass internet censorship.
Strict Censorship Policies
The Chinese government’s oppressive censorship policies are widely known. In fact, multinational technology companies specializing in Internet-related services, such as Google, have had to conform to them in the past.
For some time, many mainland China residents have been able to circumvent their government’s Internet filters, notwithstanding the scrutiny officials have been giving VPNs. An example of a large-scale crackdown on VPNs occurred in March last year, during the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing.
Yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 succinctly states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Indeed, unless it can be proven to harm national security, undisrupted online use and privacy are a facet of freedom of expression.
It is not just China, though, which enforces very strict laws on internet access. Government authorities in Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Egypt, Bahrain, Cuba, and Africa (where the internet has largely been used as a mobilization tool in the wake of mass protests) have routinely interrupted connections, particularly during times of political strife.
Chinese Leader’s Statements at Davos
Interestingly, Chinese leader Xi Jinping — in his speech in Davos, Switzerland that the World Economic Forum tweeted and featured on its website — defended the tenets of globalization. “We should commit ourselves to growing an open global economy,” he said. “No one will emerge as the winner in a trade war.”