The municipal government of Chongqing published a confusing and troubling regulation on its website on Monday which would appear to make anyone who uses a VPN to jump over the Great Firewall subject to punishment.
First-time offenders caught accessing international networks via “illegal channels” in the municipality would be warned and banned from connecting to the network again, the regulation states.
If caught breaking the rules again or found profiting up to 10,000 yuan from illegal internet networks, then violators could be fined between 10,000 to 15,000 yuan and have their illegal assets forfeited, according to a Global Times report. Amnesty International told AFP that the wording of the regulation was vague enough so that it could apply to any business or any individual.
Mysteriously, the regulation aimed at “strengthening China’s rule of law and cyberspace security” has apparently been in place since July 2016, but was only publicized on Monday.
This kind of confusion over what is legal and what is not is familiar to anyone who has used the internet in China. Back in January, China caused mass hysteria by announcing a crackdown on commercial VPN providers, which was misconstrued as an attack on individual VPN users.
In the end, we wouldn’t worry too much about this new rule. While China ranked dead last for the second year in a row in a Freedom House report on global internet freedom issued last November, we still don’t see censors fining you 10,000 yuan every time you log onto Facebook.
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