Putin Bans Virtual Private Networks, Causing Censorship Concerns


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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed a law forbidding technology that helps users get around blocks on censored web content, according to a Reuters report published Sunday.

People within the country can no longer utilize virtual private networks (VPNs) because of the new decree, which was already endorsed by the legislative body known as the Duma. VPNs are typically used in the U.S. for the purpose of accessing a company’s internally-secured internet when working offsite. Employees not within the confines of the business’ property or network are often barred from gaining entry because of the respective cybersecurity protocol.

Outside the U.S., though, VPNs are mostly used to navigate parts of the web that are blocked by encrypting the connection.

“In China, for example, the ‘Great Firewall’ serves as a massive tool for internet censorship,” Ryan Hagemann, director of technology policy at the think tank, the Niskanen Center, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “A VPN, however, can help avoid the system entirely, permitting Chinese citizens on the mainland to access the web content the government blocks–usually foreign websites.”

The Chinese government is in indirect agreement with Russia’s, after directing telecommunications companies earlier in July to obstruct users from accessing VPNs. Apple very recently surrendered to the country’s orders, removing all of the major VPN apps from its unique China-based store. (RELATED: China Battles For Internet Hegemony After America Gives Up Control)

The Russian government’s decision, like China’s, isn’t very shocking to Hagemann. The state doesn’t really respect the idea of freedom on the internet, according to Freedom House, a nonprofit that researches human rights and ranks countries based on their appreciation of liberty.

“It’s no surprise that Putin would be aiming to block their proliferation. While he’s probably concerned about the use of VPNs in accessing non-Kremlin-approved web content, his greater worry is their use in circumventing the FSB and other Russian security agencies,” Hagemann explained. “Those agencies tend to keep pretty tight tabs on state dissidents and even run-of-the-mill journalists and activists who object to his regime’s ill-treatment of the press and basic civil liberties. Limiting access to VPNs means Putin’s opponents have fewer channels to communicate and share information that may reflect poorly on his regime.” (RELATED: 2016’s Assault On The Internet Was Brutal. Will 2017 Be Worse?)

Leonid Levin, chairman of the Duma’s information and technology committee, said the law is not directed at law-abiding citizens, Reuters reports, but rather to stop the proliferation and access of “unlawful content.”

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