Most people in the Western world regard privacy as one of most fundamental rights in a democratic society. They also take it for granted that these democratic principles apply equally to the Internet. This is why the exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program in 2013 highlighting the extent of Internet surveillance by the US authorities was such a scandal. With signs that Internet privacy may soon be a luxury and attempts to censor the Internet are on the increase it may be a good time to acquire a VPN. With a VPN you can side-step the Internet censorship threat and preserve your freedom to openly roam the Internet with complete anonymity.
Censorship around the world
Most people associate China with Internet censorship but it is by no means alone. A number of developing countries around the world resort to various Internet censorship strategies to stamp their authority over their citizens. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has issued new federal laws that forbid anyone in the UAE from making use of virtual private networks (VPN) to prevent the state from monitoring their web traffic. Elsewhere even staging the Olympics was no guarantee of an Internet free from state interference. Digital rights group AccessNow had to petition vigorously to make sure the Brazilian government did not turn off the Internet during the games.
To date in 2016 AccessNow has documented nearly 30 shutdowns worldwide. Among them are India’s government which ordered a mobile Internet blackout after authorities killed a famous political dissident. The government of the Republic of Congo shut off the Internet entirely for a few days in April during elections to prevent “illegal reporting” of ballot numbers. In May, the Iraqi government blacked out the Internet to keep sixth graders from cheating on national exams. Algeria did the same in December of last year to prevent students from cheating. Meanwhile users in Southeast Asia are increasingly prosecuted for statements they make on Facebook or YouTube. In August 2016, the mother of a Thai activist was charged with royal defamation for receiving a post deemed defamatory and could face 15 years in prison.
State scrutiny spreads to the West
State scrutiny of Internet activity is not only a preoccupation for developing nations. Western democracies too are preparing to curtail some of the basic Internet freedoms currently available. For instance, in response to the threat of terrorism Western governments are actively pushing for measures that will substantially increase their ability to monitor everyone’s Internet usage. The UK is leading the way with its Investigatory Powers Bill. The bill will allow the state to collect and examine everyone’s communications data and web browsing history. If passed, Britain will go “further than any other Western democracy” in its expansion of surveillance powers and its ability to collect bulk data without justifiable reason.
Following terrorist attacks elsewhere in Europe countries such as France and Germany are also lobbying for help with monitoring communications between suspected terrorists. Although France has said that it would only use the powers to monitor people who were being investigated there is concern among privacy advocates who claim allowing authorities to read specific messages means that it would no longer be possible to guarantee the privacy of any other message.
Common Internet censorship techniques
Nation states use a variety of Internet censorship techniques. Among the most common are: IP Blocking (blocking the IP address of a website that is judged to host questionable content); DNS Filtering and Redirection (preventing the DNS from resolving the correct domain name); URL Filtering (scanning keywords in the URL and blocking blacklisted ones); Packet Filtering (filtering content based on data packets that are sent or received through a network access point); Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) Attacks (taking proactive steps to control information transferred over the Internet); TCP Connection Resets/Forged TCP Resets (using filters to block a TCP connection so that all subsequent connections and requests are automatically blocked for all users; and Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) (inspecting the inner data of a packet to read emails, browsing history, and VoIP communications).
The good news is most attempts to censor the Internet are readily resolved with a little technical know-how and an encrypted connection such as a VPN or a confidential network like Tor. A VPN service provider that uses SSL or browser-related tools provides a secure encrypted connection and makes it difficult for spying agencies to read the data.
In summary, a VPN is a tried and tested way of providing an encrypted connection to the Internet. It allows the user to bypass state attempts to censor Internet content and to enjoy total online anonymity. A VPN offers the option of connecting to the Internet from a server situated anywhere in the world. This allows you to mask your original location, while the encryption keeps browsing data hidden from censorship filters and surveillance agencies.