(Global Voices) – A police report leaked last week from China’s Xinjiang province describes Internet censorship circumvention tools as “second class violent and terrorist software.”
— Mikhail Doroshevich (@infopolicy) March 9, 2014
The leak raises serious questions about the consequences of using VPNs, web proxies and other tools that help Internet users get around censorship and other obstacles (like slow speeds) in online networks. While some companies offering these services are banned or disrupted in China, others are fully licensed to operate. It has been estimated that 1-3% of China’s internet users use circumvention tool to visit overseas websites.
China Cuts Mobile Service of Xinjiang Residents Evading Internet Filters – CCP blames VPN's for terrorism. https://t.co/uZQwImLPvC
— Conorl (@ConorlConor) November 24, 2015
The leak, which was firstly appeared on mainland Chinese social media but deleted quickly, has made waves in a number of overseas Chinese news outlets, prompting widespread concern about the legalities of using such tools. As one user on Reddit put it:
“I understand this isn’t in all of China but if I travel to China with a VPN already installed on my laptop could I technically get arrested?”
New leaked Xinjiang paper begs question: "Does using a VPN technically mean I could be arrested?" https://t.co/ccg0mA9qyI
— Josh Summers (@farwestchina) October 27, 2016
The report (below) was filed by a prefecture police inspection team on October 13 in Changji City, a Muslim autonomous area in Xinjiang, where the majority of population belongs to the politically marginalized Uyghur ethnic group. The report is to seek help from the county-level police to follow up on the case.
Chinese police in Xinjiang categorize VPN as "2nd-degree terrorist software." That gives u a sense what *anti-terrorism* in XJ is all about. https://t.co/LSrX6GTb98
— Yaxue Cao (@YaxueCao) October 20, 2016
According to a report from Solidot.org [original post was deleted, content has been republished on Letscorp], the circumvention tool described in the report is a VPN (virtual private network), which allows users to access censored websites. The report calls it a “violent and terrorist software”.
Filed under the category of “online violent and terrorist acts,” the report’s subject line reads: “a netizen in Changji city is suspected of downloading violent and terrorist circumvention tool.”
The descriptive text of the report reads as follows:
A netizen in Changji (online account number: XXXXX IP: XXXXX) is suspected of downloading a violent and terrorist circumvention software at 12:42:21 on October 13. The software can run on mobile for sending different types of documents. Once installed, the software can be operated on the mobile management tool set for searching documents, games, backing up photos and sending text messages. This software has been classified by Public Security Bureau as second class violent and terrorist software.
Initial inspection: Phone number: XXXXX, Name: XXXX male, ID number XXXXX, Home address: XXXXX Active in Changji city.
The exact downloading time marked in the “crime report” suggests that the suspect’s communications have been under surveillance for irregular online activities. The report does not describe any actual crime taking place, but rather it anticipates a crime merely because the suspect attempted to access censored web content with a circumvention tool.
Judging by the “function” described in the case report, the circumvention tool is merely giving its user access to overseas search engines and cloud storage. While the document specifically says that the circumvention tool has been classified by the public security bureau as a type of “second class violent and terrorist software”, there is no public information describing how it was classified as such, or what other products share this classification. This leaves Internet users with no way to know if their software or other tools are legal or not.
"just using a VPN to access blocked websites can earn you a trip to the local police station in Xinjiang" https://t.co/9iUmGtsLkv
— 👨🏻💻Largo | アンディ (@largo) May 24, 2016
Targeting an ethnic minority region for VPN use
This is not the first time that Xinjiang police have targeted netizens who use circumvention tools.
Since the terrorist attack that killed 29 in Kunming Station in early 2014, government leaders in Xinjiang have begun to cast blame on circumvention tools for the spread of violent and terrorist messages. In 2015, Xinjiang residents were told that the use of VPNs would lead to the suspension of mobile phone services. In some cases, the netizens have had to report to the police in order to restore suspended mobile connections.
As former Xinjiang Communist party chief Zhang Chunxian put it:
“90 percent of terrorism in Xinjiang comes from jumping the wall. Violence and terrorism keep happening due to the videos on the internet.”
Read Original Article here.