Protect Digital India: About the challenges associated with banning VPNs

Synopsis: Understand the issues associated with banning VPNs.

Introduction

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs discovered that VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) might conceivably allow anonymous activity online. So, the committee recommended that the Ministry of Home Affairs collaborate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to develop a coordination mechanism to block VPNs.

What are VPNs?

A virtual private network (VPN) provides online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask a person’s internet protocol (IP) address, so the online actions are virtually untraceable.

VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.

For example, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, etc.

What are the challenges associated with these recommendations?

Against governance: If India banned VPNs, it would join the ranks of countries such as Russia, China, Belarus, Venezuela, Turkey, and the Gulf states. All these countries are not role models in terms of governance or freedom.

Economically disastrous: VPNs are essential to the proper functioning of many modern businesses, particularly in the high-value-added services sectors. The VPNs enable branch offices to be properly plugged into corporate networks and allow for employees to conduct transactions and approvals with proper data security.

Many proprietorial trading platforms require the use of in-house VPNs to connect and make trades.

Negative effect on telecom efficiency: Other countries with state capabilities that have tried banning VPNs have seen a big negative effect on overall telecom efficiency. For example, Iran’s internet is slow due to its attempts to inspect internet traffic for anything that might be going through a VPN.

Against global practice: Attempts to block VPNs are not trivial efforts. Even the People’s Republic of China, with a vast and well-trained bureaucracy dedicated to maintaining the Great Firewall, can only block VPNs with low reliability.

Against government practice: Over the past year, the Department of Telecommunications has successively liberalised the norms governing “other service providers”. This enabled the service centres to properly integrate with international call and data networks using VPNs. This was expected to reduce costs and increase the competitiveness of the service sector.

So, the notion that criminals alone use VPNs is deeply fallacious, and the committee should reconsider its suggestions or the government can ignore the Parliamentary standing committee recommendations.

Source: This post is based on the article “Protect Digital India” published in the Business Standard on 7th September 2021.

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