VPN services on why they won’t cooperate with Russian authorities
November 1, a law that allows to block services helping to bypass Internet blocking – such as VPN, Tor browser, anonymizers, and similar tools in browsers – entered into force in Russia. The law obliges these services to cooperate with Roskomnadzor and block access to banned resources. No responsibility for users of such services is provided yet. Several well-known VPN services have already announced they are not going to implement the new Russian law.
Ben Van Pelt, the founder of the American company TorGuard
The draconian laws against VPN in Russia and China show well that the authorities of these countries simply do not understand the principles by which people live in the new digital age. Information deserves to be free of constraints; there is not a single government in the world that can influence this. The Internet does not accept any boundaries or restrictions for political reasons. All people have the right to private, uncensored access to the Internet — irrespective of their country.
We won’t be complying with the new Russian law. Our company does not agree with Roskomnadzor’s censorship. This law not only contradicts everything that we believe in, but also is not effective in our [American] jurisdiction.
We are very proud to be breaking this law. Doing this, we openly advocate freedom of speech and free access to the Internet, and oppose censorship. Aren’t we in 2017? It begins to feel like 1984.
If we correctly understand this law, now VPN providers who refuse to cooperate with the Russian authorities will be illegal in Russia. It is not yet clear whether Russian users of such services will be held responsible. Today, we have several hundreds of clients from Russia, and their number has been constantly growing in recent months.
If you want the best internet access in Russia, with unrestricted websites and complete privacy, TorGuard VPN’s AES-256 encryption powered by unblockable Stealth VPN is your best option. We won’t be complying with the Russian government to block websites. Ever.
Here’s an advice to the Russian users: use our Stealth VPN. In this mode, the traffic going through the VPN is displayed as normal SSL traffic; no provider will be able to detect that you are using a VPN. Plus, if you still cannot fight your paranoia, do not pay for your VPN via credit cards or bank accounts. Use cryptocurrencies. And of course, do not use Russian postal services.
Sunday Yokubaitis, Golden Frog President
We are very concerned that Internet censoring has been getting more stringent all over the world lately. And of course, we are concerned about the new law against VPN in Russia. It is also aimed at the development of censorship. We have never supported or will support such measures in any country of the world, and we will fight against this.
We simply cannot comply with the new Russian law, because we do not censor, but provide freedom. We provide people with a service that helps bypass censorship on the Internet. Our company will not take part in censoring the Internet in Russia, no matter what law they adopt.
As we see it, our Russian users are under no threat. Consequently, we do not see any strong reaction from our clients following the adoption of the law — the number of our Russian users remains the same.
Martin Müller, PrivateVPN Director General
We are deeply disappointed with the virtual ban on VPN in Russia. Such things limit democracy and people's access to freedom. And this is exactly what we strive to provide to our customers; VPN is freedom. Of course, legally the law does not prohibit the direct use of a VPN, but now it will be permitted only within the ‘legal framework.’ This means that now it is the state that determines what you can access, and what you can’t. Russian users will be faced with content censorship.
As a company, we are obliged to follow Russian laws – as long as we have our own servers in Russia. If it gets to where we are required to remove them from Russia, we’ll do it. We absolutely disagree with the ban on VPN in Russia. Our advice to Russian clients is simple: you can use any of our foreign servers. We are a Swedish company, and if you connect to a Swedish server, not a Russian one, legally, the connection is effected under Swedish law.
We cannot say how many users we have in Russia. We just do not keep this information, for privacy reasons.
Vladislav Zdolnikov, one of the founders of TgVPN
The requirements of the law are absurd. First, it is almost impossible to reliably distinguish all users from Russia from any other. Therefore, it is impossible to ensure that for some users, resources prohibited in Russia are blocked, and for others, they’re not. All that the VPN provider has is an email and a piece of the bank card number with which the customer paid for the service. We won't even have that if the user paid with bitcoins. And how can we determine the country using the e-mail? We can’t.
One of the tasks that a public VPN service solves is bypassing blocking. The implementation of this law makes the use of the service to bypass the blocking meaningless. To block resources, we need to implement a solution that automatically tracks user traffic and displays a blank stub instead of a resource (or block access altogether). But in the agreement with the client, any public paid VPN service indicates that it undertakes not to interfere with user traffic.
We won’t comply with this law, since its implementation contradicts one of TgVPN’s goals — that is, grant access to any resource that the user wants to open. Our company is registered in the UK and has nothing to do with Russia; but we are concerned with the situation surrounding censorship in Russia, so we plan to fight this law within the legal framework. We plan to appeal the powers of Roskomnadzor [assumed after the law enters into force]. Unfortunately, we are not ready to disclose the details yet.
We’ll do everything to make the service available for Russian users. We are only starting our work with the Russian market; we are currently extending to other countries, and our Russian users are very important to us. We are well aware of the technical capabilities of Roskomnadzor in terms of blocking and understand how it can be bypassed. We are preparing mobile and desktop VPN apps with an emphasis on bypassing VPN blocking in Russia. In these applications, there are several ways of bypassing it.
The advice to Russian users is simple – remain calm. Most likely, in general, nothing will change. Use paid VPN services for fast and comfortable work on the Internet; use Tor as a free (and slow) solution — it is almost impossible to block. A small part of the services, mostly browser plugins [allowing you to visit blocked sites], will start complying with the law. Free VPN services are most likely to be blocked in due course; they are unlikely to undertake anything to bypass blocking in Russia, as their business model does not involve additional investments to remain available.
We can’t tell the exact number of our Russian users, but we can that immediately before the law entered into force and so far we have seen a growth in the number of subscriptions. That is, instead of giving up VPN, people begin to use it much more. The Streisand effect in action. It's a pity the Russian authorities do not understand this.
The Legal Initiative researcher Saida Sirazhudinova at the All-Russian Civil Forum asked the representative of the mufti of Chechnya about the "honor killings" in Caucasus. And soon after that, she found herself under surveillance.