China Steps Up Censorship of Private Mobile Apps and VPNs

China has cracked down on mobile communications by censoring private chat apps like Telegram and WhatsApp, apparently on the basis of claims that they could facilitate communication by terrorists.

The New York Times reports that Chinese authorities in the western region of Xinjiang blocked access to foreign anti-censorship software beginning the week after the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. The censorship targeted apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which allow encrypted chats that are hard to monitor, as well as VPN services.

Users were informed of the censorship by text messages sent to their mobile devices from their service providers. The messages stated, “Due to police notice, we will shut down your cellphone number within the next two hours in accordance with the law.” Affected users were instructed to contact the police for further information.

Those who did said they were told their mobile access had been blocked because they had downloaded foreign software, used software that allowed them to circumvent firewall restrictions in China or failed to register their  identities with authorities when using online services.

Although the Chinese government itself has offered no public explanation for the increase in online censorship, the New York Times suggested that the move was a response to increased terrorist activities. As Western societies over the last several weeks have become less wary of privacy and Internet content restrictions that governments say could help combat terrorism, Chinese authorities may be hoping to step up their censorship activities as well, the paper said.

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