The People’s Republic of China has some of the most rigorous rules against internet freedom and their users’ privacy. For many years now, people that reside in this territory have had trouble accessing some of the most used apps and websites due to their government increased censorship. Now, another problem arises, one that only deepens this issue.
Since November 1st, the Chinese police get exclusive rights to virtually do whatever they want to Internet Service Providers. That means they can legally access any information they want, as long as they consider it a matter of cybersecurity.
Chinese History with Internet Censorship
One of the things this country is widely known for in the cyberspace world is its incredibly strong firewall. They call it the Great Firewall of China. It’s a powerful mechanism that helps authorities enforce their regulations and have an enhanced control over Chinese citizens and their online activities. The Great Firewall successfully keeps more basic VPNs out of the country’s territory, thus preventing its citizens from accessing the censored content and disobeying rules. It also dictates which domains get blocked and what content can be accessed by internet users.
The country has been trying to gain control over the internet as long as it has existed. The censorship there is among the most extensive ones in the world, together with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Also being the most populated country in the world indicates that dealing with hundreds of millions of internet users is not an easy task. But this is nothing a good firewall cannot handle.
Back in 1996, a project named Golden Shield was launched by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The Golden Shield was a national filter that blocked sensitive content, usually regarding politics. Over the years this project was many times upgraded and, along the way, it became known as the Great Firewall of China. Even then, people were trying to find ways to bypass it.
For some time VPNs were the best solution to bypass it. Until the firewall began detecting the VPNs by exploiting their vulnerabilities. Basic security protocols were not enough to protect the netizens without being noticed and access the blocked content.
In mid-2017, the government started targeting VPNs in a different way, with their controversial Cyber Security Law, a regulation that was frowned upon by many people. But. VPNs were still around, which meant that there was still a solution to the problem.
Fast forward a few months, in February 2018 it was announced that overseas VPN providers will be banned. Telecom companies were told to make sure that their 1.3 billion subscribers should not be allowed the use of Virtual Private Networks. This was one of the most drastic steps from the government that left the netizens without many options in a country that already has major apps and pages blocked. Namely, China has blocked Google, Gmail, YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, Slack, and many other mainly western websites.
As of this was not enough, the government has made a bold move once again, only increasing the already large censorship and surveillance in the country. This time they involved the police.
The New Regulation against Internet Privacy
As of the beginning of November 2018, when the new Provisions on Internet Security Supervision and Inspection by Public Security Organs regulation came into force, Chinese police can now freely access and use any information from companies that provide internet services, as long as they consider it to be relevant to cybersecurity.
In other words, they can enter the premises of your Internet Service provider and check whether the company is following the established laws at any time.
The regulation, also known as Circular 151, authorizes China’s local and provincial police to remotely or on-site check if the company respects the existing Cyber Security Law. Besides they can copy documents, interview employees at their will, etc.
Namely, this includes information whether the internet provider company has kept a record of their users’ information and logs, if they have taken the proper measures to protect users against cyber-attacks and viruses, or they properly banned the prohibited publications. Moreover, the Chinese police can also investigate if the company has given assistance to national security tasks and complies with special instructions during times of cybersecurity safeguard tasks.
Considering the situation in this country in the last couple of years, this is not something entirely new. On the contrary, now authorities have just legally put into writing what was already happening in China.
As censorship and surveillance continue to rise and the users are running out of option, this new move represents another critical hit against internet freedom and users’ privacy.
It’s a matter of time when the government will introduce another, even more, strict regulation that will damage the free will of the people living there beyond repair.