08 Jan 2019 | Grace Tsoi | Inkstone
A man in southern China has been fined for bypassing censors to access international websites, adding to the uncertainty over the tools to evade censorship used by millions in the country.
Zhu Yunfeng, a 30-year-old man living in the Guangdong province, was ordered to pay a $145 penalty for using Lantern, a proxy software which allows users to bypass Chinese censors.
As it tightens its grip over Chinese society, Beijing has in recent years also tightened its information censorship and cracked down on censorship-evading tools.
The Chinese authorities’ rare move to punish an individual for using these tools indicates a toughening in their control of the internet, says Yaqiu Wang of Human Rights Watch.
“Previous punishments to rein in the use of circumvention tools have primarily focused on providers and left individual users alone,” she told Inkstone. “It certainly will have a chilling effect on Chinese Internet users who wish to access censored information.”
Many academic researchers and foreign businesses rely on access to a free internet, often using virtual private networks, or VPNs.
And many normal internet users use VPNs to search web pages using Google, which is blocked, or access social media websites such as Instagram and Facebook, which are also blocked.
Software program funded by US government that helps internet users get around censorship is rapidly winning friends on the mainland
Freedom House puts the number of VPN users in China at 20-30 million.
Launched in 2013, Lantern is a popular internet censorship circumvention tool based on third-party proxy servers. The app received funding from the US State Department.
It is slightly different from a VPN, which allows users to send and receive data via a secure network, usually located in a foreign country – thereby bypassing censorship.
China has the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship regime, which is unofficially known as the Great Firewall.
155 out of 1,000 top websites ranked by web analytics company Alexa are blocked in China, according to Greatfire.org, which monitors censorship in the country.
Tools to circumvent China’s censorship have existed, and been more or less tolerated, since almost as soon as the Great Firewall went up.
But in 2017, Beijing launched a 14-month campaign against internet connections, including VPNs, and many private VPNs no longer work in China.
A man in the southern region of Guangxi was jailed for five and a half years for providing VPN services in December 2017. He also had to pay a fine of about $72,900 – the equivalent of the profit he had made while operating since 2013.
A large-scale crackdown on individual VPN users would have far-reaching consequences.
Some international companies rely on the technology to access services blocked by China that have nothing to do with politics. And state-run media companies, like the official Xinhua news agency, distribute their content on blocked networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
Original Link: Fined for scaling China’s Great Firewall