Government Surveillance
Government Surveillance

U.K’s Digital Economy Act 2017 got the royal assent after it was passed by both houses of the Westminster Palace. It became a law on 27 April 2017. The most significant provisions are that sharing copyrighted content on the internet can result in from two to ten years in jail.

It also “provisions for a broadband universal service obligation (USO) giving people the legal right to request a connection above a speed of a certain level“.

Plus, the law restricts access to online pornography.

However, the devil is in the details.

The bill also allows for greater sharing and use of citizens’ data across the public sector, a recent example of which was British PM Theresa May forcing the Home Office to access “confidential NHS data to trace immigrants“.

A Trend

There’s an on-going trend of increased government oversight on the use of the internet. From Turkey’s ban on Wikipedia to Australia’s potential restrictions on the use of VPNs, the obvious trend is to apply liberal regulations about online privacy of citizens, as well as allowing the greater commercial use of consumer data by the ISPs.

From getting access to 151 million phone records to suddenly changing the FCC rules which undermine net neutrality and using warrantless surveillance programs, the U.S government tracks internet activity of millions of people. Text, email and other sensitive information are accessed using privacy loopholes.

Similarly, under the umbrella of security, the British government also began sharing sensitive data of immigrants across its agencies. The move was pushed by the British Home Office.

The current prime minister of U.K, Theresa May, allowed government agencies to integrate different public databases thereby permitting organizations to share information with each about the public.

The Guardian reports that the move resulted in the U.K’s Home Office accessing “confidential NHS data to trace immigrants”. Despite concerns over legal basis, the patient data was handed over to the Home Office on the request of the British Prime Minister.

Couple this with a law titled as “ Investigatory Powers Act 2016” better known as the ‘snooper’s charter’ and you get a picture as to where governments across different continents are moving towards. It’s no less than legalizing “deep access” to the online footprints and activities of millions of their citizens.

Open Rights group director Jim Killock described the Investigatory Powers Act as the “most extreme surveillance law ever passed in a democracy”. The law also permits government agencies to hack users’ computers, tablets, mobile phones and digital devices.

An Alternative

This brings us to the point of how best to safeguard yourself from hackers and government agencies?

The use of VPNs is known to most people who take privacy seriously. As governments increasingly rely on cable operators, broadband providers, smartphone manufacturers, and telecom companies to gain access to user data, there is an increased likelihood that people will switch to VPNs to protect their online privacy.

The passage of the bills such as the ones that repeal privacy laws (as in the case of the U.S), or greater sharing and use of citizens’ data across the public sector in the U.K.), raises concerns about how VPN users may be impacted by these changes.

Lee Bell of Wired notes that “VPN is predominantly used by the privacy-minded because it hides your internet activity from your internet service provider, as well as governments or spy agencies. In offices and schools, and even countries, which ban certain websites, VPNs can be used to navigate these restrictions”.

A Careful Approach

Users can tread the line carefully.

The use of VPNs and associated means that result in inflicting a serious risk of commercial scale loss shall be avoided.

It comes as no surprise that U.K’s ISP (Internet Service Providers) are aggressively sending letters to people to stop using BitTorrenting websites. ISPs realize that going forward; the laws are on their side.

The new legislations, whether taking place in the U.K in the form of Digital Economy Act 2017 or Copyright Amendment Bill in Australia and repeal of Obama-era broadband privacy rules in the U.S., such moves will result in compromise over an individual’s online privacy.

Though the new laws also allow governments to implicate organizations indulging in copyright violation at a commercial scale, the downside for common citizens is also significant.

As a result, the use of VPNs is increasing in securing one’s online/digital footprints from hackers, governments, and private organizations trying to sell user data makes sense.

One in four users on the internet uses a VPN for accessing sites restricted in their home country (Asia), reasons of privacy (Western Europe), and access geo-gated content (South America, Asia, Australia).

Another pattern, as you may see in a graphic published by research firm Statista, is that countries with authoritarian regimes have a high number of people using VPNs to access restricted websites such as Facebook, YouTube, and the likes.

Privacy advocates have long demanded reforms in government surveillance practices.

Finding Your Way To Better VPNs

There are hundreds of VPN providers in the market which makes it difficult for the end-user to choose which one best suits them. A rule of thumb is to choose the one that:

  • Offers a few days of free trial so that you may test the service and not immediately locked into a paid package
  • Provides the best encryption to secure your data
  • Makes it explicit in its terms of use not to keep logs of its users’ activity.

Educating your way to online security and privacy is the best course for privacy minded people. You may compare our curated list of VPN providers such as ExpressVPN, IPVanish, HideMyAss, and proprietary antivirus software to help secure your online privacy from snoopers and hackers.

BEST VPN 2017

RankVPN NameRatingMonthly PriceWebsite
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7.4.2/5 Read review$4.95Website

Shargeel is an internet privacy expert and information technology enthusiast.

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