An Indian Parliamentary standing committee on home affairs has asked the Indian government to ban Virtual Private Networks or VPN in the country. According to the committee, VPN is a threat to national security and can be used by cybercriminals to remain anonymous and bypass security protocols.
The committee stated that VPN applications are easily accessible with hundreds of websites openly advertising and selling such services. It states that since these applications allow criminals to access the dark web while remaining anonymous, it becomes a technical challenge to track them.
Hence the Committee "recommends that the Ministry of Home Affairs should coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to identify and permanently block such VPNs with the help of internet service providers.”
In case you’ve been living under a stone, literally, and are not aware of what VPN is used for, It helps users bypass the prying eyes of their ISP or access information that is otherwise geo-locked. It is also used by enterprises to protect their data by transferring it anonymously over the internet. The use of VPNs has seen a massive uptick in recent times thanks to the employees working remotely as a part of the new normal.
However, it is the same quality that is often misused by threat actors and the committee seems to be anxious about the same. Cybercriminals, with the help of VPN, remain anonymous to access the dark web, which is a hub for all illegal activities including drugs, pornographic content, hacking and much more.
Though according to Medianama, the committee not only wants the government to collaborate with the international agencies to ensure that VPN services are blocked in the country but also wants the agencies to “to strengthen the tracking and surveillance mechanisms by further improving and developing the state-of-the-art technology, to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web.”
Ban on VPN – A threat to privacy?
While the committee is looking from a perspective of national security thus ensuring that the internet is not used for unethical use. It wants to ensure that the agencies can track threat actors easily and stop them from getting involved in activities that are against society and national interests.
However, this also gives the government agencies an open license to track every individual thus posing a serious threat to an individual’s right to privacy or personal autonomy.
Additionally, since the Covid-19 outbreak and the pandemic that followed, businesses are forced to have their employee’s work remotely and even remote education replaced regular schooling. In both cases, VPN is of critical importance as it ensures data privacy.
Also, a ban on VPN can be seen as a move to curb the free exchange of information over the Internet. Even in countries like China where surveillance is at its peak, VPNs are not illegal or banned. Federal agencies in the US also have devised ways to counter cyber threats with the use of technology instead of banning VPN.
In a somewhat related move, the Indian government banned over 260-odd Chinese applications last year citing reasons like a threat to national security and sovereignty. However, most of these companies have found an alternate route to operate in the country. Without a strict follow-up process in place, the decision of banning the apps serves no purpose.
Last but not the least, the Indian data privacy and security act are about to be introduced. It gives the agencies immense authority to track individuals who are deemed risky from a national security point of view. Coupled with the ban on VPNs this act could spell dooms for individuals’ right to personal autonomy.
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