Russia demands access to VPN providers’ servers.
Many fear that the law will make it harder for Russians to circumvent internet censorship. Signed by President Vladimir Putin in July, the law places restrictions on proxy avoidance tools. These tools include virtual private networks (VPNs) and anonymous proxy servers (anonymizers). VPN providers could be forced to cooperate closely with Roskomnadzor, the Russian media guard, and comply with its requests.
What is a VPN?
A VPN is a private network created over a public network. Despite popular belief, VPNs cannot completely anonymize online connections, as some VPN providers (usually free VPN services) can keep user logs. However, they can further increase a user’s privacy and security by hiding their IP address. You can click here to learn more about VPNs. In a business environment, VPNs allow employees to securely access an intranet from outside the office. VPNs and anonymization devices allow the user to appear to be connecting to the internet from another location.
What exactly is prohibited in Russia?
Despite many speculations, the law does not directly prohibit the use of VPNs and anonymization devices. However, it restricts access to prohibited websites using these tools. VPN providers will have access to Roskomnadzor’s blacklist of banned websites and will be able to offer the use of their servers “within the legal framework,” reports the banking portal banki.ru.
According to the RBC business daily, Leonid Levin, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s information policy committee, has previously said that the law was only intended to block access to “illegal content” and not to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens.
Will this work?
Roskomnadzor has developed measures to identify suspicious websites, as well as ways to block them. However, in practice this is very difficult, and it can have undesirable consequences. For example, the guard has a unique registry of banned domain names.
In June, one of Google.ru’s web pages contained a redirect to a blocked online gaming domain. Due to this ban, the search engine was blocked for several hours. IT experts say the law provides an exemption for corporate VPNs. However, it is not clear exactly how Roskomnadzor will distinguish between corporate VPNs and public VPNs.
Is Russia an Important Place for VPN Providers?
Today, 70% of Internet users will avoid using Russian servers because of retention laws. Even people living in Russia will prefer to connect somewhere else to avoid data retention.
Russia doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to online streaming content. Streaming channels are limited, and no major sporting events have taken place since the Sochi Olympics. Only 2-3% of Internet users can request Russian servers to broadcast their country’s channels or to access websites requiring Russian IPs.
Where else are VPNs banned?
Because each country has its own laws and regulations on everything, VPN providers often have to work country-to-country. Therefore, some services are available in some countries and not in others.
China may have opened up its economy to the world, but in soul and in general practice, it remains very socialist. This basic integration into a one-party system has resulted in very strict regulations imposed on citizens.
To put the VPN problem into perspective, China has long banned access to a large number of foreign websites and apps within its borders. Examples of these include the popular social networking site Facebook, as well as the Giant Google search.
Since the use of a VPN can essentially bypass these bans, the country has made the use of all VPNs illegal except for government approved service providers. It goes without saying that these are usually local service providers, accountable to the government.
Belarus is a little weird because it has a constitution that does not allow censorship but several laws that apply it. Like many countries trying to restrict digital freedom, the country has capitalized on the tendency to cry fake news’ as a means to an end.
In 2016, the country finally decided to ban all internet anonymizers, which include not only VPNs and proxies, but also Tor, which scrambles users’ internet traffic through its global network of volunteer nodes.
Over the years, digital freedom in Belarus has only worsened. In addition to placing barriers to access and blocking the right to free speech, the government has rigorously enforced these regulations on its own citizens.
3. North Korea
To be fair, North Korea’s ban on VPN use should come as no surprise. The country has one of the most authoritarian governments in existence and has laws prohibiting many things from its people, except the right to work and to worship its leader.
In 2017, the country took last place in the annual press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. Reports indicate, however, that the privileged nationwide are able to use VPNs and Tor – mostly for skill training.
I’m not sure if banning VPNs in the country really means anything to the people, as internet access and even cell phone service is not something that is commonly available in the country.
In line with the government’s attempt to tightly control all media in the country, no outside media is allowed. Of course, the national media are highly regulated and the use of VPNs is completely prohibited in Turkmenistan.
The country is very insular and has a terribly horrific human rights record. Even as it moves into the modern era as a presidential republic, again it’s a place that remains very socialist in its heart and tightly controlled by the ruling junta.
During the war with ISIS in the region, Iraq resorted to internet bans and restrictions as part of its defense strategy. These restrictions included a ban on using VPNs. However, that was a long time ago and today ISIS is not as big a threat as it used to be.
Unfortunately, this is a state that often has conflicting laws and beliefs. As such, it’s almost impossible to tell if using a VPN in the country is allowed today, as even censorship is a questionable subject.
Since 2005, there are constitutional guarantees regarding censorship. This makes using a VPN in the country a dangerous proposition.
Although there are many users who claim that VPN usage is still a gray area in Oman, you should make the difference. Looking at the topic on a broader basis, Oman explicitly states that the use of any form of encryption in communications is illegal.
That being said, this law is virtually unenforceable as it would require the country to block or illegalize websites that use SSL. This would mean that technically the majority of the World Wide Web would be illegal to access Oman.
The situation here is strange and, unfortunately, few other sources are forthcoming on the situation.
Legality of VPNs Amid Censorship and Restrictions
VPNs are legal to use in most countries around the world. However, if you are in a handful of those with some form of restriction, you may face some significant challenges. In many cases, the legality of VPNs seems directly related to the type of government under control.
The general theme is that the more restrictive a law, the greater the degree of control over personal freedom. This is not always so easy to say, as many of them will see the restrictions as a form of “protection” for citizens.
Understanding VPNs and illegal activity
To expand on the fact that VPNs are just tools, you need to understand that VPNs and what you do with them are separate things. It’s like the difference between owning a gun and what you do with it.
Some things you do with a VPN may be illegal – and they have nothing to do with the VPN itself. For example:
- Illegal File Sharing – Many applications and files are copyrighted or have some form of ownership. Sharing files isn’t a problem as long as you don’t share the ones that don’t belong to you or have permission to share them, like music, videos, or commercial software.
- Hacking – It is illegal to access any digital platform, service or device without authorization. Whatever your intention, doing it with or without a VPN is illegal. If you are using a VPN to hack a site, the fact that you are anonymous does not make it “OK”.
- Restricted Materials – Certain types of materials are simply illegal to have, trade or share. Examples of this would be illegal types of pornography, confidential information that does not belong to you, or restricted financial information.
- Cyber harassment – Harassing or stalking someone in cyberspace is illegal almost anywhere in the world. Covering your tracks with a VPN may keep you anonymous, but that doesn’t remove the illegal aspect of your actions in this regard.
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