There’s not much more to say about China’s approach to restricting online access for its millions of citizens. The eastern superpower leads the table as the most repressive country in the world in terms of internet access, with new services being expelled from the country daily. This is courtesy of the infamous Great Firewall, which is getting taller and wider each day and has now reached a point that is getting pretty much impossible to escape from.
As part of its restrictive regime China has declared war on VPN services, a fact that has lead to Apple removing many VPN apps from the App Store and has imposed serious threats onto anyone who uses such circumvention tools. And to prove that the country is taking these new laws seriously, it has recently sentenced a man to nine months in jail for selling access to VPNs.
A Business That Can Send You to Jail
When China’s new measures were announced it sounded more like a way to deter people away from these tools for fear of repercussions. But as we all know the word of the Chinese government is to be taken seriously, proving its strength when it sentenced a 26-year old man living in the Guangdong province to nine months in jail after making 14,000 yuan ($2,142) from selling VPNs since October 2015. The sentence dates back to March 2017, though the documents only started to appear online in late August. Those same documents stated that Deng Jiewei was convicted for “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system” – a Chinese synonym for VPN, apparently.
According to the laws published in March, anyone that profits more than 5,000 yuan (roughly $765) with VPN connections can face fines up to three times that value, but it is the sentence for nine months in jail that is scaring internet users of the country. In fact, since it’s still a mystery of what the consequences can be for those who pay for VPNs – but don’t profit, at least monetarily, from them – many other Chinese VPN users have rushed to What’s on Weibo, a blog tracking the latest social trends in China, to demonstrate their concerns regarding such convictions.
One of the most liked comments sarcastically asks if “everyone who uses a VPN to evade the Great Firewall can also be convicted of illegally invading or illegally controlling the computer information system”, given that “selling a VPN means a conviction for ‘providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system’”.
Given the immense force that China is putting towards VPN and other circumvention services, it seems very likely that we’ll be finding out about this kind of thing happening in the future.