Online crimes, "national security"... Why India is attacking VPNs

VPNs are allowed in democracies around the world.

Online crimes, "national security"... Why India is attacking VPNs

VPNs are allowed in democracies around the world. Designed to browse the Internet anonymously with a fictitious geographical position thanks to external servers, Virtual Private Networks are on the other hand hated by authoritarian regimes, where the use of such a virtual private network is prohibited or strongly restricted: China, the Russia, Belarus or North Korea are the main examples.

Will India, which is increasingly clamping down on online expression, follow this path? As reported by Liberation and Radio France internationale (RFI), the Indian government has required, since June 28, all VPN companies to collect and store the personal information of their users (names, addresses, IP connection addresses, etc. ) for a minimum of five years, or even longer in the event of a specific request, and to make them available to the police in the event of a request.

The Indian government's decision was made in the name of fighting online crime and "national security". "If an incident or a crime is reported, access providers have the obligation to indicate who used this server", warned Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister Delegate for New Technologies. "So, yes, if your business model is to provide anonymous access to the internet, it won't work. And I think the world is now realizing the damage that anonymity through VPNs does."

But according to Karan Saini, network security engineer and contributor to investigative media Bellingcat, "most data thefts are carried out without using VPNs, because their perpetrators know they will not be caught: the authorities do not do not have the human or financial means to prosecute them." For this engineer interviewed by Liberation, "the restriction of VPNs is hypocritical" insofar as it "will not prevent the bulk of online attacks, but sends a message that all Indians are suspected of committing these crimes, and seek to hide in order to do so."

These new restrictions on online anonymity worry journalists, human rights and environmental activists. Often used to circumvent national censorship, VPNs can get in the way of the government because they allow journalists to investigate anonymously. In recent months, the Indian authorities have arrested, among others, a young environmental activist for sedition or several journalists, such as Mohammed Zubair or Rupesh Kumar Singh. As RFI notes, Devesh Kumar, data analyst and journalist for The Wire site, revealed that the ruling BJP (a Hindu nationalist party) created the Tek Fog software, which manipulated social media trends and orchestrated online hate campaigns.

The social network Twitter also filed a complaint against the Indian state on July 5 because the latter ordered it to remove hundreds of messages and erase 1,474 accounts in recent months, without legal justification according to the company. New Delhi has indeed tightened the rules governing social networks. Their India-based employees face jail time if they fail to comply with content takedown requests. "What is considered a crime today in India is getting bigger and bigger. So if you take away anonymity online, you drown out all these dissenting voices," said Srinivas Kodali, an independent network security researcher interviewed. by Liberation. As the daily reminds us, unlike most Western countries, India does not have a privacy law. Nor an independent body - like the Cnil in France - responsible for protecting citizens against excessive state or commercial surveillance online.

Upon the Indian government's announcement, VPN companies like NordVPN and ExpressVPN condemned the new restrictions and shut down their servers in the country so they wouldn't have to collaborate with the authorities. "ExpressVPN has taken the immediate decision to remove its VPN servers located in India. We refuse to compromise the security and privacy of our users' personal data," ExpressVPN Vice President Harold Li said in a statement.

ExpressVPN clarified that for users “who still want to connect to VPN locations in India,” the company “offers two virtual server locations: India (via Singapore) and India (via UK). virtual, the assigned IP address is associated with the country you have chosen to connect to, while the server is physically located in another country. Virtual servers are used when needed to ensure faster and more reliable internet connections But this practice of offshoring, common in Europe, is now "illegal", warned Minister Rajeev Chandrashekar, who wants to "find a way to prevent it".

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