China has further tightened its grip on the Internet by creating technical problems for the users of anti-censorship software.
An estimated 630 million people – out of China’s 1.4 billion people – are online, but they must surf and engage with content within the so-called Great Firewall, one of the world’s most sophisticated censorship systems on the Internet.
Ahead of Beijing’s military parade marking the end of World War Two, several anti-censorship services have been taken down or were disrupted. Astrill, a popular virtual private network (VPN) – VPNs are used to comb the web through an uncensored server – warned its users that there would be connectivity outages. In a message to its users Astrill said:
“Due to upcoming Beijing’s military parade next week, China is cracking down on IPSec VPNs using GFW auto-learning technique”
Due to the Great Firewall, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google and other global giants are blocked. China has created very popular versions of each, which authorities can regulate and monitor, but many circumvent the bans by using anti-censorship tools.
The South China Morning Post quoted a disgruntled VPN user, Zhou Jing, as saying:
“It’s very upsetting because I find myself disconnected from the outside world, no Gmail and no Facebook, no information from the world”
Rights groups say Chinese President Xi Jinping is widening a campaign to quash dissent among academics, activists and journalists. The country has also clamped down on NGOs, and a draft law is being considered that would give police authority to control the finances of foreign-run groups.
Separately, two independent Chinese developers have removed their anti-censorship tools after they were allegedly pressured by police to do so.
The non-profit GreatFire wrote in a post that the latest clampdown “makes it clear that the Cyberspace Administration of China is working closely with state security and local police to further Xi Jinping’s crackdown on internet freedom in China”.
China has called for greater controls on the Internet worldwide, which has spooked rights activists who see the world wide web as the ultimate bastion of freedom of expression. U.S. officials have blamed Chinese hackers for the summer 2015 cyber attack on the U.S. Office of Personal Management. The United States is planning retaliatory measures if such attacks were to happen again, including, possibly, taking a crack at the Great Firewall.