Former journalist, founder of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club, and president of the China Speakers Bureau, Fons Tuinstra, opines:
In the never-ending debate on the filtering of the internet in China, one political dimension of the feature is the need for many stakeholders in the Chinese bureaucracy to know what the outside world is reporting, not only about them, but also about Libya, Japan or whatever issue might be sensitive today.
When I asked Chinese journalists in Shanghai in the past how they would get their information, they said the first thing they would get when they started working at one of China’s official media was a VPN, a tool to circumvent the internet censorship. “Hey, we needs that information, we cannot work without it,” they told me. Even worse, at the time they used a VPN developed by the Falung Gong – one of the most despised foreign organisations by the Chinese government – simply because it was the best at the time.
Believe me, not only Chinese journalists, but also tea-drinking officals of state-security, foreign affairs, and many other departments have their own reasons to find holes in the censorship of the internet. Mostly, you hear from foreigners living in China who get upset when another one of their toys is being blocked or when they believe their favorite gateway to an undisturbed internet connections with the rest of the world is under threat.
Most recently, VPN-services got that attention, especially 12VPN.com who recently tripled their subscription rate out of fair they were getting to popular. They had a tough time, as many of their gateways got blocked. (Some interesting details in the comments here.) Current users report today they have no problems with there service.
I have seen some desperate calls from internet users not to name those VPN-services by name, since that would only make those services more vulnerable for possible actions of the Chinese censor. You should not give away information to the enemy, is their argument. What they forget, or perhaps not realize, is that those government agencies are already heavy users of those VPN-systems, even if they are made by the Falung Gong, the CIA or anybody else: they just need to have the best possible way around their own censorship. Anything what happens in this field, will be common knowledge even for those directly in charge of internet censoring. [Read more here]