Ban on VPNs in India is likely to follow the new VPN rules

Ban on VPNs in India is likely to follow the new VPN rules

India has come out with some new directives for VPN services in the country.

Certain governments across the world don't like Virtual Private Networks aka VPNs. The reason, mostly, is that VPNs are a big problem for any government that is trying to monitor and control the way the internet is used in the country. China, for example, hates VPNs because it lets its citizens in some cases bypass the Great Firewall. Most Middle-East countries, UAE for example, too hate VPNs because they let people bypass censorship. Russia, recently after its war with Ukraine, has started hating VPNs because they would have allowed Russian citizens to access news websites that the country has now banned. Now after India unveiled some new rules last week regulating VPN services, we can say that the Indian government too doesn't like VPNs all that much.

But it's not a clean break yet. And clean break for India is also much more difficult because unlike in countries mentioned above India doesn't have a despotic government. The other reason why an outright ban on VPNs in India is difficult is because India is more intimately linked to the internet and global IT services and economy than China, Russia or UAE. In other words, India needs to be careful in how it blocks VPNs in the country. And with the CERT-IN rules last week, it is being careful. An outright block on VPN services in India is coming, though.

This is how it works. For now, what India has done -- citing national security -- is to put fetters on VPN services in the country. It has asked VPNs to:

-- Validated names of subscribers and customers hiring the services

-- Period of hire including dates

-- IPs allotted to (or) being used by VPN users

Ban on VPNs in India is likely to follow the new VPN rules
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-- Email address and IP address and time stamp used at the time of registration

-- Purpose of using VPN services

-- Validated address and contact numbers

-- Ownership pattern of the VPN subscribers

Anyone familiar with how VPN services work will immediately realise that these rules are not reasonable in any way. In fact, it seems as if they have been formulated in a manner so that they cannot be complied with. Now to understand this, you need to understand why people use VPN services.

There are two types of VPN users: Individuals and organisations (mostly big companies). They both use VPNs for different reasons. Individuals mostly use VPNs to bypass censorship, access blocked content and avoid surveillance. They also use it for privacy on an internet where advertisement tracking is pervasive. The organisations, meanwhile, use VPNs for data security. They ask their employees to log onto the office network only through an internal VPN. They are not bothered with the privacy aspect and they don't care about unblocking parts of the internet. In fact, on internal VPNs employees are always tracked, regular VPN services are banned, and as far censorship is concerned, the internet in most big offices is far more restrictive than the public net.

For a company that runs a non-public VPN for its employees, adhering to new CERT-IN rules will be no problem at all.

Ban on public VPNs

But it is the public VPNs like Surfshark, Nord and ExpressVPN that will find following the new rules impossible. This is because most of these services -- or at least the services that can be relied upon -- put privacy at the centre of what they offer. In many cases, these VPN services even have a no-log policy, which means they do not record what a user does with their VPN service. The idea is that if they don't log, they can't share the data if and when someone asked for it.

These VPN services can comply with Indian rules only if they change their policies in a way that makes them less secure. And if they do so, they might get a chance to continue their services in India, but their reputation will be in tatters and they will lose their global subscribers. Essentially, no VPN service worth its salt will (or can) comply with India's rules. Already Nord and Surfshark have said they will move out their servers from India instead of complying with the new rules.

India's new VPN rules come into effect from June. This will be enforced loosely for the time being. But after a while, once corporations that run their own internal VPNs, as well as some "India-based" VPNs comply with the new rules, the government is likely to bring in fresh directives banning all VPNs that do not respect India's demands. This ban is likely to be through ISPs like Airtel and Jio, similar to how China blocks VPNs, and through Google and Apple's app stores. As an extreme measure, the authorities may even make it near impossible for Indians to pay for services from global VPN providers.

Of course, the authorities are unlikely to call their move a "ban" on VPN services. Instead, it will be temporary blocking of VPNs not complying with Indian rules. But effectively, there will be a ban. The idea would be to block VPNs that people use, and only allow services that are VPNs in just their name.

This way, the authorities can claim that there is no ban on VPNs in India, and hence can avoid the local and international bad press that the word "ban" tends to bring. If the ban on VPNs is not on the cards there is no reason, absolutely no reason, for CERT-IN to come up with its new rules. They are specifically and carefully created to push all VPN services that offer privacy and anti-censorships out of the country.Live TV

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