The Chinese government is moving to ban the use of VPNs for individual Chinese citizens by 2018, in an effort to exert “internet sovereignty” according to President Xi Jinping.
VPN’s, or virtual private networks, have been used as a workaround for internet users in China to access internet content beyond the government censors. The censorship tool, nicknamed “the Great Firewall” has for years forbidden access to some of the world’s largest internet sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google.
But open access to the internet is critical to what was, until 2015, the world’s fastest growing economy. As such, businesses in China have used VPNs to reach their international partners. Academic institutions have also needed them to remain connected to their peers in other countries. Perhaps not surprisingly, individuals have co-opted VPNs to gain access to an internet free of censorship.
Freedom of speech, press, and information remains taboo in China. In 2010, after facing pressure from the Chinese government to censor its services, Google left the country. Internet censorship remains the norm, with the government restricting access to any information critical of the regime or its history. Since the internet arrived in China, the government has played a careful balancing act, hoping to use it to enable its burgeoning economy, but still prohibit a free exchange of information that could be threatening to the regime.