VPNs offer people a way to read content and communicate with friends without the prying eyes, and that scares governments across the world – most recently in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who have introduced legislation that would make VPN use punishable by jail time and fines of up to $500,000.
We see web filtering in many countries, from China’s “Great Firewall” to the UK’s own filters that block access to pirated and adult materials, but few places will punish those encrypting their internet through VPN use by such harsh penalties.
We stand against all internet censorship, and have rallied against the UK’s own pointless restrictions, but the UAE’s harsh penalties show a that is in the precarious position of being scared of its own citizens and the outside world.
UAE may think they need to protect their citizens from an internet awash with sex, nudity, and general blasphemy – but that is the real world and it is not going anywhere. Information flows on the internet, and banning forms of communication just push the information flow further underground and away from the state’s prying eyes.
Blocking its own citizens from accessing this material doesn’t build a stronger or more pious country, but one where the divide between the populace and the ruling class gets ever wider, with an ever growing chance of uprising.
VPN use is also not limited to those wanting to catch a glimpse of a naked woman or downloading Taylor Swift MP3s – they are utilized by many large corporations to allow workers to securely access documents and more on the company’s intranet. Most of the large multinational companies with offices in UAE do not host their intranets in the country, and a VPN is required to continue doing business. If the UAE government also plans to block this VPN use, then they are sending a clear message to international business, that they are not welcome.
This new rule is nearly as bad as the UK government wanting to ban encryption, and we all know how successful that plan was last year.
Photograph by MosterStina