British Minister says VPNs can’t be outlawed

This week British minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe was in Singapore to witness the signing of an agreement with Singaporean counterparts aimed at investigating ways to increase the economic benefits and protect intellectual property rights between both nations. While on this trip VPN use has made headlines.

VPN services serve many purposes. Their intention is to provide the security and privacy of a local network over a public network. Essentially allowing you to carry out privacy-orientated tasks over the internet. A by-product of this is it allows access to content that would otherwise be restricted geographically.

The ability to bypass geographic blocks is often the bane of entertainment companies around the world and while some such as Netflix discourage VPN use ultimately they earn bigger profits by unofficially allowing customers to use their service from territories it wasn’t intended.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, OGLv2.

Singapore like the UK has a vast number of users who employ the use of VPN services to access online content otherwise unavailable in Singapore such as Netflix or the UK’s BBC iPlayer. As online content is often limited and delayed in release in Singapore a VPN allows users a way of accessing movies and TV from overseas without the need to wait for it to be released locally.

While the intention of VPN services is to be used to protect the privacy of the consumer it is clear that large numbers make use of them to access geoblocked content. In relation to this fact, Baroness Neville-Rolfe told Singaporean newspaper The Straights Times that “You can’t outlaw a key technology.”

It is clear that the use of VPN services to access content is not only limited to Singapore and the UK as Australian authorities recently looked at ways to restrict or block VPN use to aid in the fight against copyright piracy. However, although a copyright bill did pass in Australia it ensured that it did not extend to Virtual Private Network services that have legitimate uses which were what was echoed by Baroness Neville-Rolfe in Singapore this week.

As countries look to restrict VPN use because of geo-restriction circumvention and due to the claimed increased difficulty they cause surveillance agencies it seems sectors of countries are protecting their right to be used.

This is clear with the comment from Baroness Neville-Rolfe and the fact the newly elected Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull states on his own website that the Australian “Copyright Act does not make it illegal to use a VPN to access overseas content.”

Australian VPN

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s website.

Although VPN use may be a headache for entertainment providers it is clear their use to access content is at most a grey area and at best only against the terms and conditions of the use of the service being accessed. There are no clear laws in any civilised nation that make it clear that VPN use to bypass geo-restriction is illegal.

Often users from one jurisdiction are circumventing geoblocking in another jurisdiction which makes laws even further blurred. What is concrete is VPN access is a user right and we should all be entitled to protect our privacy where possible.

Singapore image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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