Internet, Legal News

How to Violate Chinese Law and Get Away With It: Don’t Go There.

China criminal law

In Cashing in on Internet Censorship, CNN News writes how business for Virtual Private Network (VPN) software companies is booming these days, thanks largely to China and Iran. The article discusses how “foreign companies are profiting from software that allows circumvention of government internet controls.”

The article quotes China lawyer Steve Dickinson on how businesses that offer firewall avoidance software in China are violating Chinese law:

Steve Dickinson, a China-based lawyer with Harris Bricken, an international business law firm, said that “companies supplying VPN products in China are technically breaking Chinese law.” But then Steve points out how this hardly matters because those doing the violating are not in China:

“China has no jurisdiction over such persons. As long as they do not physically enter China, there is no risk,” he said in an email to CNN.

Completely true and more relevant than people realize.

There are a number of internet businesses that are legal in their country of operation but illegal in one or more countries in which they do business. Many years ago, there were internet businesses selling medications from countries in which a prescription was not required into countries (like the United States) where a prescription was required. The US government tricked some of the people behind these companies to come to the United States, where they were arrested.

Not saying the same thing is going to happen to people at the companies selling illegally into China over the internet, but it might.

Let’s just say that if I were CEO of a VPN company, I would think long and hard before going to China. I might even want to know which countries might or might not extradite me to China. Funnily (or not) enough, because of my law firm’s long history representing Russian companies and companies that do business with Russia, we have many times been retained to map out extradition risks for clients, some of which left where they were for somewhere else based on our report.

Our best advice on all this is to be mindful of the laws of all of the countries to which your company’s operations reach and be careful about visiting those countries that may have a legal beef with your company.

14 responses to “How to Violate Chinese Law and Get Away With It: Don’t Go There.”

  1. Any American Execs of companies selling VPNs to China should watch their step.
    Given America’s insistence on policing gambling websites that (should?) lie outside their jurisdiction – http://www.physorg.com/news164995832.html – imperialistic mentality? When will America realise that prohibition doesn’t work… unless you count ensuring organised crime has huge revenues as ‘working’.
    Given China’s rise in influence in Africa and S. America US Execs of VPN companies would be wise to consider their actions now and the implications on their future travel plans.

  2. Interesting stuff. I’m no expert, but I believe that it’d be quite possible to block a VPN service, even made by Google, without disturbing their other products. For example, spreadsheets, for some reason (?), don’t work in Google Docs without a proxy. That specific feature is blocked. However, if Google were to enter the VPN space (it really doesn’t seem crazy at all, considering their public DNS move in 2009), I’m confident that they’d engineer a way to circumvent blocks into the product. Creating a VPN that is extremely difficult (or impossible) to block seems well within Google’s abilities, but this is just my opinion, I’m not a Google engineer.

  3. The VPN traffic can be monitored without much trouble by the Great Firewall. It however cannot easilly see what exactly is going through the VPN, it is simple to make a survey of all the VPN servers, determine if it is legit and block the illegit. For example, a bureaucrat can also download the Google VPN software and quickly determine where these VPNs are located. The reason why they did not do that until now (or maybe they did) is because most VPN customers are not Chinese i suppose.
    Oh, if i was China (or you might say: the poor man’s approach, or the opt-in solution) I would slow down encrypted traffic that leaves the country. That is simply turning one button on the GT that is already there and it will be quite a bummer for the Google engineers.
    I don’t believe and i also don’t hope Google has this plan: it would ruin the day for the few foreigners that use VPN now.

  4. What law, exactly, would one be breaking by selling a VPN in China? Is there a law specifically banning the sale of VPNs? Or is Steve’s assertion merely a guess that such activity would be punished under some catch-all law like “subverting the state”?
    Regardless, has anyone been punished to date for selling or using a VPN in China?

  5. Technically speaking, the most effective vpn’s for inside china are probably ssl vpn’s which effectively mimic secure connections to websites. These are far harder to block than a more traditional corporate vpn which uses an identifiable protocol which can be blocked by firewall. With SSL you have to either analyse all SSL traffic in order to figure out which ones are VPN (vpn traffic would look different to standard SSL connections due to the amount of data being sent and the frequency at which it was being sent) or they would have to individually block every ip address they suspected of being a VPN gateway. The thing is if anyone were capable of setting up such a system it would be google, they recently as you probably noted turned on SSL encryption for all their gmail logins, supporting that many ssl connections (encrypted connections) is no small feat and constitutes perhaps the hardest part of setting up a mass scale vpn. So my guess is they could do it and they could make it extremely difficult for china to block effectively, the great firewall would have to block entire ip address ranges and google owns *a lot* of servers and *a lot* of IP’s. So as a technical exercise it could be done, but let’s face it, it’s not in Google’s interest and I expect the US government wouldn’t be entirely happy with someone providing a mass VPN solution to the public so I don’t expect it will ever happen.

  6. I live in China and have been using a VPN. Is it actually illegal to use a VPN in China? I recently went on vacation to Thailand and found that I was unable to log onto my VPN while at a particular hotel. The internet time was purchased through a 3rd party provider, but it seems that if a company like that could prevent me from using a VPN, it wouldn’t be very difficult for the Chinese government to stop people if they want to. I was able to log onto the VPN at a different hotel, so I don’t believe that it had anything to do with me being in Thailand.

  7. I would like to echo G.E. Anderson’s question. Which law exactly is broken by selling to Chinese residents, or using in China, a VPN service? Or by using fanqiang (“wall-jumping”) methods generally?

  8. Even if most people were to use the vpn to bypass the censors, the vpn is painfully slow. Given that when you are in China accessing sites outside of China are already slow add the vpn to it and it becomes slower.
    Most internet users will not wait very long for websites to come up. If it does not load in 5 seconds or less, most people would just give up unless they have a reason to go to a particular site.

  9. Interesting, though replying to Hong, VPN services aren’t that slow in China as you say, my relative from China uses VPNProNet.com service and its fast and great for him. In my opinion, people should not be blocked from websites and VPN Service is good.

  10. @ Sean- What’s the difference between VPNs and proxies? Everyone boasts about private VPNs in China, but I found that simple proxies, such as Securitales work perfectly fine..

  11. I support Sean here. VPNs aren’t slow if you have got the right one. I have been using vpninja.com that is really really fast and not much expensive.

  12. I’ve been using express vpn. It’s about 100RMB equivalent a month. Works well. Good support.
    Berty

  13. A VPN is a must if you`re living in China. It`s almost impossible to get
    online without one. For example, if you go to a blocked site, Internet
    access is cut off COMPLETELY for one or two minutes. It becomes
    extremely annoying after a while. I am using this VPN now:
    http://www.sunvpn.com/, had no problems with it.

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