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Explained: Why Parliamentary panel wants to ban VPNs in India?

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VPNs recorded a 671 percent growth in India in the first half of 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic normalised remote working. The ban would be a huge setback for large businesses that have relied on VPNs to secure their network connections. Privacy experts are not too happy either.

Explained: Why Parliamentary panel wants to ban VPNs in India?
VPNs may soon be out of service in India as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has asked the government to ban their use, saying VPNs provide significant technological challenges to maintain the sovereignty of the nation. The parliamentary committee has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to coordinate with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in order to “identify and permanently block such VPNs with the help of internet service providers,” reported Medianama.
What are VPNs?
Virtual Private Network or VPN is a service that connects your device to the internet through another network, which has the benefit of hiding your IP address and making connections more secure.
VPNs essentially act like secured tunnels to other computers on the internet, called ‘hosts,’ and allow users connect to the entire internet highway through this host.
What are VPNs used for?
VPNs in essence are primarily used for two things -- securing connections between multiple devices and for remaining anonymous over the internet. VPNs have seen a large adoption and penetration in India, especially as companies moved to remote working models as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.
VPNs are used by large corporations to secure the network connections of their employees when connecting to a large corporate network. They are also used to secure data transfer between two or more devices.
But for private users, VPNs are used for remaining anonymous over the internet, protecting one’s identity, circumventing bans on websites and thwarting cybercrimes against oneself, among other things.
What is the ban about?
The request from the parliamentary committee comes as 31 Members of Parliament found that VPNs provide significant challenges for authorities to nab criminals and thwart “cyber security walls.”
“The Committee notes with anxiety the technological challenge posed by VPN services and Dark Web, that can bypass cyber security walls and allow criminals to remain anonymous online. As of date, VPN can easily be downloaded, as many websites are providing such facilities and advertising them,” read the recommendation from the committee.
The recommendation essentially walks back on the government’s relaxation on VPNs by recommending the official use of VPNs for the other service provider (OSP) sector. The official recommendation was meant to bolster India’s large IT services sector that had to rely on the work-from-home model during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
VPNs in India had recorded 671 percent growth in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020 as a result of these relaxations. “Prior to 2021, the VPN penetration rate in India hovered around 3 percent, which is near the bottom of the list globally. Yet, by far the most significant growth in the number of downloads in H1-2021 was in India,” said Atlas VPN, a free VPN app that conducted the analysis.
The move to completely ban VPNs could cause irreparable damage for large businesses that have relied on VPNs to secure their network connections, especially as remote work continues to remain popular.
Privacy experts also highlight that blocking VPN not only puts individual users at a greater risk of being on the receiving end of cybercrimes but also impugns on the right to privacy of individuals.
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