The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has implemented a stringent ban on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the country. This, according to a report. is in consonance with Regulation 16(2) of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations of 2020.
This move, while officially aimed at preventing Tanzanians from accessing content deemed illegal, has raised a multitude of implications and concerns, provoking strong reactions from citizens and digital activists alike.
In another report, the TCRA has mandated that both individuals and businesses that depend on VPNs for their daily operations must disclose their VPN usage and furnish all pertinent details to the regulatory authority by the end of this month. This must also include their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
The penalties for non-compliance with the Virtual Private Networks ban are severe. Violators may face a hefty fine of TSh 5 million (approximately USD 1,997) or a minimum prison sentence of 12 months.
What are the implications?
There are serious ramifications to the TCRA’s decision to crack down on Virtual Private Networks. VPNs are used extensively around the world to protect internet security and privacy, making it more difficult for unfriendly entities to keep an eye on users’ online activities.
By asking Tanzanians to obtain Virtual Private Network permits, the TCRA is essentially jeopardizing its residents’ internet privacy. Furthermore, because it allows authorities to closely monitor individuals’ and businesses’ internet activity, this step could pave the way for further government monitoring and restrictions on freedom of information.
This raises questions about the country’s freedoms being restricted in addition to discouraging the usage of Virtual Private Networks. With this, Tanzanians may soon find themselves in legal hot water for something that was formerly a tool for internet freedom.
Why are these new laws coming into place?
The reasons for this law are unclear, except for what the regulator has stated clearly. The government may want to restrict the flow of information which could be one rationale for the VPN ban. With the use of VPNs, people can access content that is restricted by the government and get around censorship, which could constitute a danger to the establishment.
Also, the government may aim to collect data on Virtual Private Network users to monitor their online activities more closely. This could be part of a broader strategy to curb dissent or maintain political control. In essence, the ban on VPNs could be a means to enhance governmental authority over online communication and content.
The ban on VPNs has sparked widespread condemnation among digital activists and civil societies. It is seen as a clear act of censorship that infringes on Tanzanians’ right to information and online privacy.
Individuals and businesses that use Virtual Private Networks for legal purposes must now deal with the difficult permit application process, which may harm their online security and privacy.
Tanzania is not the only country
Tanzania is not the only country in the region with VPN restrictions. In a 2011 report, Uganda, a neighbouring country, imposed a Social Media Tax. However, according to the Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC), VPNs were being used to avoid paying the tax.
But how can the government tell when someone uses a VPN? In the report, the Ugandan government further explained that while it might be a hard situation, there are technologies in place that block these VPN technologies.
The ban on VPNs in Tanzania raises questions about the growing trend of governments imposing restrictions on internet access. Tanzania’s ban on VPNs carries significant implications for its citizens and raises concerns about internet freedom and privacy.
While the regulator cites regulations as the basis for this move, the underlying motivations might appear to be rooted in maintaining control over online activities and information flow.