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Privacy Crackdown: Russia Bans VPNs And Apple ‘Sides With Censorship’ In China

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

Privacy advocates criticise the moves as government’s seek to tighten their grips on the web

The Russian government has passed regulation that bans the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), signalling another step backwards in the fight for internet freedom.

The law, which prohibits citizens from using software that enables access to banned websites in Russia, was signed by President Vladimir Putin last week and will come into force on November 1st.

The rules will effectively make it harder for users to browse the web anonymously, with the Russian government following China’s lead by seeking to tighten its grip on internet censorship.

Internet censorship, filtering © Brian A Jackson, Shutterstock 2014

Privacy hit

Russia’s Duma committee on information policy and technology has attempted to downplay the new regulations. Committee chairman Leonid Levin said that the ban is aimed at blocking access to “unlawful content” and is not simply a way of “introducing new bans for law-abiding citizens”.

But, this hasn’t fooled privacy advocates, who have widely criticised the ban of VPNs as being another example of a government trying to control and censor the internet.

Russia certainly has form in this area. Authorities recently blamed mobile messaging app Telegram for concealing terrorist activities through the use of end-to-end encryption and even threatened to block the app entirely.

And the move has been compounded by the news that Apple has removed several of the major iOS VPN apps from the China App Store, including ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and StarVPN, citing breaches of local laws.

ExpressVPN has since released a statement accusing Apple of ‘siding with censorship’, saying: “We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts.

“ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties.”

Edward Snowden also offered his two cents, tweeting that “Apple has done much good for privacy and security in recent years, but actively assisting censorship crosses the red line of human rights.”

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