China is already known for its severe censorship of internet content, including blocking popular sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Until recently, users could circumvent these measures via the use of proxy servers and VPNs though they may soon be subject to government approval - and become potentially illegal as soon as next week.
Chinese officials this Sunday announced a year long initiative to 'clean up' virtual private networks (VPNs) and any other services that allow its residents to circumvent the Great Firewall, the nickname given to China's policies on restricting internet access. The campaign will run from now to 31 March 2018 and the new regulation put in place will require VPN services operating within the country to seek government approval - approval many might not receive, effectively making a number of them illegal.
While the logistics of how these regulations will be put in place and, more importantly, enforced are still vague, according to some experts, the move is aimed specifically at those providers which service individual users and not professional firms enabling multi-nationals operating in China to connect with offices abroad.
The new regulations may, at least partially, be in anticipation for the country's 19th party congress where a major reshuffle among the leadership is expected to take place. Indeed, two liberal websites were recently shut down by the authorities and the new regulations have further sparked fears among internet users over increased isolation from the rest of the world and the potential legal backlash over continued use of VPNs and other such services.