“Due to police notice, we will shut down your cellphone number within the next two hours,” one user was told in a text message
Most travellers into China are familiar with the ‘Great Firewall of China’, also known as The Golden Shield Project, which refers to the country’s initiative to filter and monitor online content that might be viewed as “unfavourable”.
Many of them, as well as savvy locals, are also well-versed in using a virtual proxy network (VPN) to access blocked sites and apps like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Gmail.
However, this might not hold true for long. A number of mobile users in Xinjiang, China, have had their mobile devices switched off involuntarily, according to the New York Times.
The reason has been attributed to their usage of VPNs to bypass state-mandated filters.
One of those affected said that they received a text message that reads: “Due to police notice, we will shut down your cellphone number within the next two hours in accordance with the law… If you have any questions, please consult the cyberpolice affiliated with the police station in your vicinity as soon as possible.”
Another person whose mobile service was suspended said that there were “about 20 people” — foreigners and locals included — queuing up at the Urumqi Police Station to enquire about how they can “restore their mobile phone accounts”, said the report.
He had to pass a police officer his identity card and mobile phone for further checks, and was told that he had “used software to jump the Great Firewall”. He added that the police station will restore his service within three days.
Another person interviewed by the New York Times said that the police had “checked his social media postings” but did not give a clear answer on when service will be restored.
It does not appear that this suspension of mobile service due to unauthorised usage of VPNs has been replicated in other Chinese cities, especially ones home to many foreign businesses like Shanghai or Beijing.
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