Chinese worker fined US$145,000 for using a VPN

Phone with the text VPN crossed through with a red ring.

It is pretty common knowledge these days that inside Communist China, online freedom is essentially non-existent.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) monitors everything you do online at all times, and if you step out of line in any way, the consequences can be severe.

This is the main reason why they work so hard to try and block VPNs in China because they are a tool for online freedom and put the individual’s online activities out of reach of CCP officials.

Shift in Penalties for VPN Use

However, despite this, up until now, being caught using a VPN has generally resulted in a slap on the wrist, perhaps the confiscation of your smartphone, and a few points knocked off your Orwellian social credit score.

But the latest case of VPN use in China has shifted the goalposts considerably.

Reports in the Chinese media (in Mandarin) have revealed that an individual, who has remained unnamed, has received a whopping great big fine as a result of his VPN use.

The individual in question worked as a consultant between 2019 and 2022 and, as many of us were forced to once the COVID-19 virus escaped China and rampaged around the world, he spent a lot of that time working remotely.

He was also using a VPN while he did so, and according to the local reports, he used this VPN to access GitHub to view source code, answer questions in customer support, hold teleconferences via the Chinese-owned Zoom and to post threads on Twitter (known as X at the time of writing).

This information came to the attention of the Chengde Police force, and their official documents have revealed that they have decided to treat this individual’s income for the three years that he was doing this as ‘proceeds of crime’.

Yes, that’s right. Because he used a VPN, something that online security experts actively recommend and many of us did when forced to work remotely during this period, every penny of his income has been defined as being the proceeds of a criminal activity.

As a result, he has been fined 1.06 million Chinese yuan, which equates to US$144,097. That is his total income for the three years in question.

It is an astonishing punishment made all the worse for the fact that this is China, so even if he is able to appeal the ruling, the chances of his appeal being successful are practically zero.

Consequences and Future Implications

Needless to say, the punishment has seriously spooked many Chinese people who routinely use VPNs to communicate freely with the outside world and to bypass the country’s Great Firewall.

If you work in any form of business in China that involves international engagement, you pretty much have to use a VPN, and this ruling sets a precedent that could criminalise huge swathes of the Chinese population and leave them subject to massive fines.

We encourage Chinese people to use VPNs in order to get online freely and protect themselves from the surveillance of the CCP.

But we also warn them to be cautious of the potential risks that exist in China if they are caught using a VPN by the CCP authorities. And this case only serves to highlight the fact that, inside Communist China, using a VPN is still a very dangerous thing to do.

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 7 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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