Selling VPN in China Can Land You in Jail! But What About Using It?

Is VPN legal in China? It’s a question Chinese citizens as well as expats living in Mailand China ask a lot. Ever heard of the Great Firewall of China? It’s a term used to describe the rigid internet policies that regulate and censor thousands of social networking sites and websites across China. There are massive online surveillance programs watching online activity at all times. Any content that might pose a threat or may be critical of the governing authorities is immediately flagged, and access to it is denied. In China, people can’t use websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and have their own local (highly successful) versions for each.
Is VPN Legal in China?

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Is Using VPN Legal or Illegal in China?

But what if you wanted to log on to one of the global sites? The only way to do that is through a Virtually Private Network (VPN). VPNs are immensely popular in China, and thousands of citizens regularly use them to circumvent the censorship system.

However, recent headlines about Deng Jiewei, a man from Dongguan in Guangdong province being sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for selling VPN software has created a furor in China, and people are now worried if the use of VPNs is a crime.

The 26-year-old was convicted for selling VPNs on his website for 2 years. He and his partner made approximately $2,133, selling two products that enabled buyers to access foreign websites that were banned on the mainland. He was arrested in March but the news only surfaced in September.

Is it a Crime to use a VPN in China to access Blocked Websites?

The average VPN user is currently very confused about their own legal standing. If selling VPNs is a crime, then what about using VPNs? Both parties are ultimately using software that evades the Great Firewall; but does that make them liable for punishment?

A popular comment on the Chinese social media website ‘Weibo’ states that “If selling a VPN means a conviction for ‘providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system’, then everyone here who uses a VPN to evade the Great Firewall can also be convicted of illegally invading or illegally controlling the computer information system, right?”

Thousands of people and several companies in China use VPNs on a daily basis as they provide a secure encrypted connection between a computer in China and a computer located overseas. In fact, China has not been able to pass a blanket-ban on the use of VPNs as so many businesses, particularly international businesses in the country, depend on these private networks for security. Prohibiting the use of VPNs would severely affect companies doing business in China.

So the million dollar question is – is it illegal to use a VPN in China? It’s a gray area at the moment and information suggests that the government is targeting companies who provide VPN services to individuals. It is an offense to operate such a service without a telecommunication business license. Companies have to get clearance and approvals from the government to create and use VPNs.

China VPN Ban – When, Where, How

Chinese Big Brother is watching you: The VPN ban will be officially instated in February 2018. Until then, the government is taking some of the following measures to make it harder for Chinese people to access VPNs.

  • The country is seeing changes under the new crackdown and VPN users in certain provinces have started receiving messages on their computers instructing them to disconnect from the VPN.
  • People who use a VPN to generate a profit of over 5,000 Yuan can be fined up to 15,000 Yuan.
  • A number of domestic VPN providers like GreenVPN have been shut down.
  • Apple has also removed VPN apps from its Chinese App Store.

Is VPN Legal in China?

Despite China’s new restrictive policies and the threat of imprisonment, it is unlikely that the sale and use of VPNs will stop completely. It appears that some of the measures may make it harder to use VPNs, but will the desire for information and online freedom prevail? That remains to be seen.

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