Is China Finally Legalizing the Great Firewall?

China seems to be changing its tune in how it recognizes the Great Firewall. Over the past few months, several events indicate that China is publicly moving towards legalizing the Great Firewall – both through their efforts to promote Internet Sovereignty and attempts to stop the use of proxies.

Internet Sovereignty

As New York Times article outlined, the Chinese government has been working hard to enact a concept of “Internet Sovereignty” that they believe in. They promoted this concept during a United Nations meeting in December, which was set to “define the policies and frameworks of how the Internet is governed in the future.” During the meeting China tried to assert influence and pushed hard for the word “multilateral” to be included in the frameworks (meaning each state, or country, can make the rules on Internet use):

“‘China has been very active in the negotiations at pushing for more state control over how people get online and who has access to data,” and “The inclusion of the word was largely spearheaded by China, which worked to enshrine state control over the Internet in the document.”

Most other countries were opposed to this terminology and it was left out of the final document, but China held their own World Internet Conference soon after during which time they promoted the Internet Sovereignty concept again.

Circumvention Tools

It was also recently reported that China is making efforts to block “circumvention tools,” with the “help of cloud providers.” Chinese regulators are asking these middlemen, including cloud storage providers, to remove any such circumvention tools (IE proxies, VPNs) that are hosted on their servers. This effort included an email message sent to Microsoft Azure users:

“In response to recent pressure from Chinese regulatory authorities, Microsoft Azure China, which provides cloud storage for leading CDNs, issued a letter to its clients recommending that they remove all illegal circumvention, proxy and VPN services hosted on their server.”

Azure is a target because lots of virtual private servers (wall escaping proxies) are placed on Azure.

Why It’s Important

China seems to be working to publicly justify the Great Firewall – which is a big deal. In pushing so hard for Internet sovereignty they aren’t just admitting the Great Firewall exists, but also moving towards legalizing it. The email to Microsoft Azure users further illustrated this, as the phrase “illegal over the wall” sites was used. Employing this language and bringing these circumvention tools to light also shows the Chinese government is trying to regulate and legalize the Great Firewall.

This is a big change for China, who has previously even denied existence of any censorship or Great Firewall. If China legalizes the Great Firewall, they are legalizing extreme Internet censorship, which is a threat to Internet freedom for users within the country. Learn more about censorship in China here.