Chinese programmer fined RMB 1 million for using a VPN.

The Guardian reports on a dramatic sentence for the crime of internet privacy:

The programmer, surnamed Ma, was issued with a penalty notice by the public security bureau of Chengde, a city in Hebei province, on 18 August. The notice said Ma had used “unauthorised channels” to connect to international networks to work for a Turkish company.

The police confiscated the 1.058m yuan (£120,651) Ma had earned as a software developer between September 2019 and November 2022, describing it as “illegal income”, as well as fining him 200 yuan (£23).

Ma said on Weibo that the police had first approached him a year ago, believing him to be the owner of a Twitter account they were investigating. Ma said the account did not belong to him. “I stated that I was currently working for an overseas company, and my personal Twitter only occasionally liked and retweeted the company’s tweets,” Ma wrote. His post has since been deleted but was archived by China Digital Times.

VPNs, which help users circumvent the “great firewall” of internet censorship by making it look as if their device is in a different country, operate in a legal grey area in China. Technically, companies are allowed to use government-approved VPNs for commercial activities. Businesses and universities rely on the software to communicate with international partners.

The government generally turns a blind eye to the relatively small number of individuals who use the technology to access websites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and, often, view pornography. But in recent years the government has been making it harder for people to access the VPNs, and in rare cases has punished their use.