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VPN In China - Is It Legal?
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It's no secret that westerners and Chinese living in China are using VPN's to "climb the wall" or bypass Internet censorship. VPN's are growing in popularity because they allow users inside The Great Firewall to change their IP address and avoid Internet censorship. With a VPN in China, you can access Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, and even anti-Chinese propaganda in any language, because while you use a VPN, you computer essentially doesn't exist in China. But is a VPN in China legal?

China's government has said that it has never had any problem with legitimate use of a VPN in China. This is of course is up to interpretation because "legitimate" is such a vague word. Perhaps they mean for business purposes, as VPN's were originally used mostly for businesses to keep their employees connected to office servers while they're away. What about for personal blog use? Could this be interpreted as a non-profit organization, selling yourself as a brand? Is this legal? It seems like a hypocritical statement China's giving it's residents when they say that you can conduct business with a VPN, but cannot use it to check your email (as Gmail users are finding out).

The truth is that there has not been a real crack down on VPN usage until March of this year. Since about 2007 China has been slowly blocking and unblock sites at will based on world events. After riots in Xinjiang in 2009, Facebook was blocked by The Great Firewall. After the attempted "Jasmine Revolution" here in China, Gmail has been slow and unreliable in China. And after the democratic revolution this year in Egypt the first sign of efforts to limit VPN in China usage appeared. PPTP and L2TP VPN protocols were blocked. These are two of the less secure forms of VPN's, and are used for mobile devices. SSL/OpenVPN is still available, and it is unclear whether China has chosen to leave this kind a VPN protocol untouched on purpose, or because they don't have the technology to block it.

So is there a clear answer? Is a VPN in China legal? As with many things in China, it just depends. The truth is that if you're a foreigner and not trying to incite political unrest in China, using a VPN is not going to get you in trouble. There won't be any police knocking on your door taking your computer to Beijing to be taken apart an analyzed for anti-communist propaganda, and you won't be hauled off to jail. The greatest danger you face in using a VPN in China is spending too much time on Facebook when you should be out there enjoying your time in China!


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