First China banned VPN apps and now Russia is following suit. Russia President Vladimir Putin signed a law this week banning virtual private networks, or VPNs, along with other tech that lets people surf the web anonymously, and it goes into effect on November 1st.
A VPN lets users encrypt their online activity and helps protect their anonymity. VPN users can’t be easily tracked by their government, and they can see content that’s otherwise banned in their country.
The justification for Russia’s law is to block access to “unlawful content,” and not to restrict online activities of law-abiding citizens. That’s what the Duma information policy committee header Leonid Levin said, according to Reuters.
“Unlawful content” sounds a lot like censorship, which is part-and-parcel for governments trying to keep tight control over their citizens. Exactly what constitutes “illegal content” is open to interpretation, but seems to be growing more inclusive under Putin’s leadership.
China’s law prohibiting VPN apps forced Apple to remove many from its App Store in the country—much to the dismay of human rights advocates. Blocking the apps makes it easier for China’s government to spy on its own citizens.
Russia went a step further by banning the use of VPNs, and not just VPN apps. That’s bad news for anyone in the country worried about potential political persecution, plus it puts Apple in an awkward position since its products support VPNs out of the box.
After Apple capitulated to China’s anti-VPN laws it’ll be interesting to see how it—and other tech companies—respond to Russia’s new law.