Why did the UAE Ban VPN ?

When the UAE announced recent amendments to a cybercrime bill passed in 2012, many expatriates and others living and working in the region were reasonably concerned. One amendment effectively banned the use of VPNs in the UAE. Many people who rely on a VPN to use Skype, make VoIP calls, or watch television programming from their home country were affected by the new legislation, but few were willing to test the UAE’s resolve in enforcing the ban. Under the new law, using a VPN in the UAE could be punishable with a prison sentence, a fine of Dh500,000 to Dh2 million, or a combination of the two.

Some, however, found the amendment laughable. They reasoned that it would be very difficult to locate someone accessing the Internet with technology that is designed to provide anonymity. How would the country know who was using a VPN or which one they were using? They also had serious doubts that anyone caught would actually be fined such an excessive amount. Others immediately began to look for loopholes that would help them circumvent the legislation.

Technically, the new law states that one cannot use a fraudulent IP address to commit crimes or prevent their discovery. As with all legislation, these terms are very broad and open to interpretation. In this case, some individuals are challenging the UAE’s ban of telecommunication apps like Apple’s FaceTime and other apps like Snapchat which make it possible for users to communicate with family or friends in other countries without depending on the UAE’s telecom services. The UAE essentially regards using these apps and services as a criminal act, so accessing them with a VPN would violate the new law.

At the heart of the ongoing controversy over VPN use in the UAE and many other regions are private or state-owned telecommunications providers. In the UAE, telecommunications are provided by either Etisalat or du. These are the only two providers licensed by the state to offer VoIP services, a method of placing voice calls with an Internet connection. If a company like Apple or Skype wishes to offer VoIP service in the UAE, they must strike a deal with Etisalat or du. To clarify the concept, imagine being in the United States and having to pay a telecommunications provider like AT&T for Skype or FaceTime access. In a sense, using these services on a mobile device does cost money in terms of data usage, but what we are referring to here is general access.

The reason Etisalat and du demand this type of control is that international calling in the UAE is big business. The country is filled with many foreign workers and expatriates who must use the company’s services to call home. International calling can add up to large revenues. The permission of voice calling apps that circumvent the use of Etisalat and du directly affects company revenues.

A recent survey of 53 random individuals in the UAE revealed some interesting results. Of the 53, almost half (23) reported that they used a VPN. Just five of those 23 stated that they used a VPN to make free online calls. 17, however, stated that they used their VPN to access blocked or restricted websites such as dating apps media services like Netflix. Although this quick random survey is not broad enough to provide conclusive data, it does seem to indicate that VoIP use isn’t the real problem for the UAE. Far more VPN users appear to be using their connection for other things.

When it comes to prosecuting someone for streaming media with a VPN, things become very murky. In theory, viewing unlicensed content could be construed as violating international content laws. Netflix, for example, could then pursue action against the end user. Tareq Masarweh, who specialized in telecommunications for Ovum, doesn’t believe that a media company would take such an action, however. In a recent interview, Masarweh said he had never heard of a lawsuit of this kind brought against a user by a media company. Masarweh contended that the number of subscribers is simply too vast to justify going after users individually.

Whatever the UAE’s reason for banning the use of a VPN was, the respondents to the small survey don’t appear to be too concerned. 21 of 53 stated that they would continue using their VPN in the UAE even though it is illegal to do so.

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Will the U.S. Government try to Ban your VPN?

Online privacy. Metadata surveillance. PRISM. Internet freedom. These have become buzzwords in recent years as more attacks are levied against those who wish to browse the Internet anonymously and safeguard their data against intrusion by governments and regimes that seek to rule the online landscape with an iron fist. While the US is typically regarded as an outpost of freedom, some activists for Internet freedom have begun to ask a serious question: will the US government try to ban your VPN?

Granted, this question was a lot easier to answer a few years ago. First and foremost, the number of VPN providers was comparatively small then to what it is now. Second, whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have thrown a light on the practices of the NSA and US intelligence gathering. Given today’s political climate, it is a reasonable question to ask. An intelligent answer may be more inspired by a consideration of the US policies on capitalism and a free market economy rather than an exploration of privacy concerns. As is so often stated, one only needs to follow the money.

VPNs provide a valuable and needed service

A core rule of economics is the law of supply and demand. When a market exists for a certain product, providers will arise to supply that product. In recent years VPN usage has been on the rise. Some VPN providers including VPN-accounts.com reported a 50% increase in signups following the Edward Snowden revelations, and there has certainly been an increase in the number of VPN providers that have appeared.

This increase speaks to the awareness of the average Internet user about privacy. The irony here is that asking “will the US government try to ban your VPN” only fuels more concern over Internet freedom. As that concern builds, more people turn to a VPN solution. The demand increases and the supply increases, and in a capitalist society these principles rule the day. The US tends to be very slow in making decisions that impede the march of capitalism.

Of course, the boom in VPN services has been both positive and negative. With the increased interest a multitude of providers have appeared that do not provide the type of service offered by VPNaccounts.com. Most of them operate under the guise of providing a free VPN. In reality, there is no such animal. Everything costs something, and operators of these free services and proxies are often subsidizing their services by means of ads that greatly reduce the connection speed of users, making it near impossible to use their service for streaming media or unblocking apps like Skype and Netflix. Even worse, some of these services are basically engaged in the business of monitoring themselves by selling the preferences of users to marketing companies.

The bottom line is that VPNs provide a valuable and needed service in today’s world. As long as the demand exists, providers will exist to meet it and the exchange of goods and services is good for the economy. What is good for the economy is good for the US, and politicians that need to be reelected on a regular basis understand this all too well.

Censorship is the hallmark of a repressive government

Another reason the US government is highly unlikely to ever ban the use of VPN services is that censorship is the hallmark of a repressive regime. While there are those that would argue the US has become somewhat repressive where freedom is concerned, consider this: the presence of whistleblowers proves that any attempt to restrict personal freedom is kept covert in the US.

Take a look at Russia. In early 2015, some Russian politicians called for the restriction of services such as TOR, a browser-based proxy that is most famously associated with facilitating access to The Silk Road and other “Darkweb” sites that have been used to conduct illegal activity. The Russian officials also levied their anger against other proxies and VPNs in calling for sweeping legislation that would hamper the provision of these services in Russia.

Roskomnadzor, a state-owned agency that regulates communications and the Internet in Russia, wants more control. Vadim Ampelonskogo, the head of the agency, described TOR as a “den of criminals” and “ghouls, all gathered in one place.” Repressive regimes often use rhetoric like this to justify censorship. While it may sound noble, the action of the Russian government could have ramifications for US policy.

In the US, memories of the Cold War run deep. It is not so very long ago that Russia was considered the very antithesis of everything the US claims to stand for. Even today, tensions still abound between the two countries. As such, any philosophical agreement with Russia regarding censorship of the Internet and VPN services is something that would cause an outcry among US politicians. Quite simply, the US government does not want to be painted with the same strokes as a repressive regime.

The future is bright for VPNs in the US

At their very core, VPNs represent a founding principle of the US government: freedom. The concept of individual liberty is a sacred cow that the US government is reluctant to address in the form of legislation. It is far more likely for the US to conduct their privacy-invading activities behind the scenes in the form of programs like PRISM and by compelling companies such as Google and Verizon to turn over data on their users.

Once again, the irony in this approach is that more people now recognize that using a VPN is the most reliable way to safeguard and secure their Internet activities which feeds the law of supply and demand. Rather than worrying about VPNs being banned by the US, people should invest more time in choosing a trusted provider like VPNaccounts.com and avoid services that retain logs or otherwise facilitate the “behind closed doors” snooping of data that might be occurring in the US.

3 Steps for a VPN

01

Sign upGet an affordable VPN account.

02

ConnectConfigure the VPN on your device.

03

Enjoy VPNEnjoy the benefits of a VPN today.

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Connect & Enjoy: Internet Freedom, Privacy & security.