What’s Behind VPN Regulation?

by Adam Gill

Since personal VPNs have become popular tools for providing encryption to ordinary Internet users, governments have scrambled for ways to make them illegal. One popular strategy for gaining ground in the argument for VPN regulation has been to put VPNs in a bad light so that they can become the enemy. This has so far not worked so well, and neither has any other move against encryption. Governments are now looking at about 865 digital products that offer encryption, including VPNs, from 55 different countries. VPNs are just the tip of the iceberg, and governments are getting more creative in their zeal to cripple these security services.

The Challenge

Governments everywhere want to be able to keep an eye on security services and privacy software because these tools create a blind spot. They believe in the old way of maintaining order by first knowing everything that is going on and then exerting the right pressure in the right places to keep everyone in line. But this authoritarian approach has only become less popular with people, and the new digital privacy and security tools available are engineered to evade the grasp of these nosy governments.

Governments don’t like the new digital software because it is very difficult to take hold of. The way that most privacy and security services are set up, they can jump borders more easily than an X-15, and be in multiple countries on multiple servers at the same time. This makes them virtually impossible to pin down. So, governments have taken a less direct approach and found a few ways to make personal VPN use less appealing.

The Internet has a life of its own, and we would like to think that it will always triumph against any opposition to the freedoms of the digital age. But we have to be realistic and recognize the powers that well-established states skillfully wield. It only takes one mistake to fall into a downward spiral, and we don’t want cockiness to be the reason why the Internet fell into the hands of draconian taskmasters.

Alternative Control Methods

It is not possible to contain the Internet and all the tools like VPNs that help keep it free. But people can still be manipulated and threatened to relinquish control. Governments are using bans and blocks, and even malware to catch and stop VPN users. Some have given in to the craving for Internet access and have agreed to offer conditional access to residents.

Under most authoritarian regimes, the people cannot easily fight the anti-VPN legislation that commonly comes along with Internet censorship. These governments also regulate VPN use by forcing Internet service providers to set up filters and blocks at the network level. Fear is the main weapon here, and it works most of the time. The bravest will still find ways to get and use their VPNs and other security and privacy tools, but it is getting harder. Website takedowns make VPNs harder to find, and port blocking and deep-packet inspection make it hard to get good service. Some will even spend the time and money that it takes to continually identify and block suspected VPN IP addresses.

In countries where the government cannot abide even a few VPN users, the authorities have even stooped as low as to trick Internet users into downloading fake software – including VPNs – which are loaded with Trojan viruses. This fake software gives these authorities open access to the users’ devices so that they can crack down hard. Other draconian regimes have accepted VPN use in exchange for unfettered surveillance. These countries have set up their own state VPNs that people can use to access otherwise blocked sites, but all their activities are monitored. Anyone doing anything that the government doesn’t like will, of course, be punished.

Play On

For now, the game of whack-a-mole continues, but we must look to the future if we are to have a hope of gaining the upper edge before the other side does. The tech community is generally satisfied that they can find ways around any government moves, but it is arrogant to assume that governments will never be able to regulate the production or use of privacy and security tools.

The emerging best technique for keeping VPNs down is making it too hard for people to want to continue providing and using them. Governments have realized that they can’t get rid of these tools, but they believe that they can make people give up if they create enough static. One popular argument to try and ruin the reputation of VPNs is claiming that they are the tools of criminals. Many people, especially in the first world, do not fall for this argument since any instrument can be used for bad purposes. But legislators are pressured by the fact that VPNs do aid criminal activities and do help criminals evade capture.

VPN companies could very easily get out of the frying pan if they wanted to by monitoring their users and sharing information with regulators and law enforcement agencies on any illegal activities that are being conducted. But since VPNs are privacy and security tools, this behavior would get them thrown into the fire when their customers find out. The authorities are somewhat counting on this so that they can push VPN providers into a corner by showing that they do not want to comply and do not side with law and order.

People like VPNs because they provide access while protecting privacy and keeping them safe from cybercriminal elements. But if their integrity comes into question or if they are going to become surveillance targets of the government because they use VPNs, then they might reconsider. Fear is still the basic weapon of choice, but it is now being used in a very underhanded manner. People must remember that they have the right to access information of their choosing, they have the right to privacy on the Internet, and they have the right to protect themselves from unwarranted surveillance and criminal threats. Once people begin to forget that they can fight for and win these rights, controlling governments have already won.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: