684,000 Australian households use tools like VPNs (virtual private networks) to save money and get cheaper overseas deals such as products and content”, reported CHOICE Research, a leading consumer advocacy group in Australia.

Australian Copyright Amendment Bill

Going forward, it might not be possible as Australia prepares for a potential ban on VPNs under a new copyright and privacy legislation called Copyright Amendment (online infringement) Bill 2015. It was championed by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the parliament. The biggest impact will be faced by file sharing and BitTorrent websites like Pirate Bay and ExtraTorrent.

Rights holders will be able to request a Federal Court Judge to block online locations or overseas websites that infringe copyrights.

The law’s unintended consequence

Australian consumers may be “unable to hunt better deals through international stores and access competitor sites in other countries”, observes CHOICE campaigns manager Erin Turner.

It shows that the controversial law, passed by Australian Senate that aims to reduce online copyright infringement and arrest piracy, may result in inadvertent consequences.

Another weakness of the legislation introduced to enforce this industry-run internet filter is that it’s not clear on whether using legitimate sites through VPNs would also be unlawful.

The legislation came amid ‘Netflix-Sony’ emails leaked by online watchdog WikiLeaks. Sony especially mentioned the Australian users using VPNs in the email to Netflix.

Good news

The good news is users can still access desired websites through VPN tunnels such as ExpressVPN, IPVanish VPN, and HideMyAss. A VPNs ability to bypass government filters comes from their encryption algorithms that provide a secure mechanism encrypting user’s data. They further encapsulate user’s network traffic and move it through an intermediate network. VPNs keep a user’s information and online credentials confidential and prevent packets from being decoded on the public network.

Thus, a VPN forms the core of cyber security of people, whether they are democratic protestors on the road or online consumers.

Which VPNs can I use?

ExpressVPN stands out as one of the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) due to its superior encryption algorithms, user-friendly mobile app, no-log policy and 24/7 customer support. Added to it is the 30-day money back guarantee.

ExpressVPN review and speed test

Similarly, IPVanish operates its system through 256-bit AES encryption, OpenVPN, PPTP and L2TP/IPsec protocols, and zero traffic logs. Additionally, users are able to get 80-90% of the speed being promised. For HideMyAss, the key value propositions are that all new subscribers can avail a special discounted price until the end of May with an ability to unblock Netflix USA content. Instant, Freedom, and Location modes can be conveniently used by non-technical users also. Details can be found here.

What’s driving the use of VPNs?

People are using VPNs, password managers, and abstinence from using public Wifi hotspots as means to secure their online footprints and data. Governments have started blocking VPNs in countries like Turkey, China, and Australia. Authoritarian governments use controlling or suppression tools to determine what their citizens can access, view or publish on the internet.

However, IP (Intellectual Property) activists have termed these measures as regressive. An internet censorship academic observed that “it’s a very dark day for the internet in Australia“. It may be recalled that Turkey blocked Wikipedia on April 29. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder condemned the move by the Turkish authorities.

People are using VPNs to unblock websites in Turkey. Typically, a VPN hides user identity by anonymizing IP addresses and other confidential information that may be used to track user identity or sell their data to 3rd parties. Online users are increasingly using VPNs to protect their digital footprint. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel to mask all your online activities from being tracked or detected by ISPs and other government agencies.

Key takeaway

The use of VPNs on both desktop and smartphones is gaining traction as they hide local IP of users. Without a VPN, an online user is directly connected to the internet. A VPN essentially interrupts this direct connection and adds a middle layer to this connection whose physical location is not your real geolocation. Stealing online user’s information or location-targeted advertisement becomes pretty difficult.

The use of legislations and other tools to suppress the use of VPNs is likely to give rise to an improved and new breed of more secure and resilient VPN brands. Around 684,000 Australian consumers are already using VPNs as a workaround to internet censorship. There are both browser-based and standalone VPNs used to access geo-locked content and services. ExpressVPN, IPVanish, and HideMyAss are some popular VPNs used by consumers.

Shargeel is an internet privacy expert and information technology enthusiast.

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