VPN, Online privacy, PIA

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These are not the best of times for VPN providers in Russia since the country adopted their latest anti-terrorist law. The first casualty of this law is the US based Private Internet Access (PIA)

VPN, Online privacy, PIA
Private Internet Access

Established about six years ago with Andrew Lee as the current CEO, PIA is a personal VPN service that seeks to provide the very best in anonymous internet browsing and was named by the Editor of PC Magazine as one of the best VPN services in 2013.

Because of the high level of censorship of internet access by Russia’s security services, many internet lovers in the country who desire unrestricted access to the web use VPN services like PIA. It enables you to visit any web page anonymously and tunnels through internet blockings.

The controversial section of the legislation which goes against the spirit of VPNs requires that:

  • All Internet and telecom firms, whether domestic or foreign, must cache user’s internet activities or history for a significant period of time. For PIA and VPNs services, this is like telling them to rebrand their companies. Because one thing all good VPNs don’t do is store users’ internet footprint.
  • The new law also grants security personnel the right to have access to the stored data at any time. Even encrypted data are not spared from this law.

Even though the new law comes into effect in 2018, the secret police of Russia did not have the patient to wait that long to pounce on the servers of PIA.

VPN, Online privacy, PIA
Internet Surveillance- n Russia

Here is how the news was reported in a blog post by PIA:

The Russian Government has passed a new law that mandates that every provider must log all Russian internet traffic for up to a year.  We believe that due to the enforcement regime surrounding this new law, some of our Russian Servers (RU) were recently seized by Russian Authorities, without notice or any type of due process.  We think it’s because we are the most outspoken and only verified no-log VPN provider.

Luckily, since we do not log any traffic or session data, period, no data has been compromised.  Our users are, and will always be, private and secure.

Upon learning of the above, we immediately discontinued our Russian gateways and will no longer be doing business in the region.”

Russia is not alone in the restriction of VPN services. Most oppressive regimes around the world like Iran and North Korea are notorious for clamping down hard on citizens using VPNs to access restricted websites.

VPN, Online privacy, PIA

Earlier in the year, Netflix too showed their fangs on users of VPNs to access content that is not approved for their location. They employed sophisticated softwares to detect complex VPNs, with the result that many people outside of the US and Canada were not able to watch some of their favorite programs through Netflix.

PayPal, the number one online payment portal soon followed suit in banning the use of VPN access the site. The result was that many people who were using VPNs to make or receive online payments through PayPal, lost their accounts. Or at best had the accounts suspended for a limited period of time.

VPN, Online privacy, PIA
Paypal ban VPN

Banning of VPNs is understandable in some cases. But in most cases, VPNs provide a need and a service for people who use them. In some cases, important news happening in some remote or oppressive location gets to the rest of the world because people had access to VPNs.

The point is, Governments and large tech firms should look at the issue of VPNs carefully before taking a blanket decision to ban them. It hurts even innocent people. Just like the case in Brazil where a local Judge gave a blanket order to ban WhatsApp in Brazil. All because the local police wanted to peek at the WhatsApp conversation of a local criminal.


image credit: vpnground.com; Google; uawire.org

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