China’s VPN crackdown will not affect the normal operations of foreign companies and multinational enterprises, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has said.
The MIIT announced on Sunday a 14-month nation-wide campaign to clean up internet service providers and crack down on services including virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow users to bypass internet censorship.
It forbade telecommunications companies and internet service providers from renting or creating special communications channels such as VPNs for business activities without approval from the government.
The rules took effect immediately, rendering most VPN services illegal.
International business exception
The ministry said on Tuesday that companies doing foreign trade and multinational enterprises can use VPN services from approved telecommunications operators. The new rules will not affect their normal operations, it said, according to a Q&A posted on its Weibo account.
The target for the new rules are unapproved companies or individuals who are using international special lines or VPNs to launch cross-border telecommunications business activities, the ministry said.
The rules appear to be mostly targeting domestic service providers and businesses, and did not clearly state the consequences for VPN users. However, “the requirement that all VPNs receive prior government approval creates a default under which VPN use is illegal,” PEN America said in a statement on Tuesday, calling the regulations an attempt to “close the last lifeline to a free internet.”
Charlie Smith of Greatfire.org told the Guardian that he is concerned that domestic VPN providers that register with the authorities may share their customers’ data with authorities.
The rules stated that basic telecommunications enterprises renting out international lines to users should “focus on creating user files, clearly state to users that the usage is limited to internal office use, and must not be used to connect to overseas data centres or used to operate a telecommunications service.”