The Ethics of Vpn Usage
Some years ago, I called one of the local internet service providers (ISP), enquiring about their VPN packages. While the guy whom I talked to finally furnished me with the information that I was after, his question made me to think.
“You said you want a VPN, what do you want it for?”
It appeared this was an unnecessary question, considering that as his company was in the business of offering various connectivity services, VPN being one of them, it was not his business to find out how I was going to use it.
This logic is the same as asking each person who applies for broadband connection as to what the purpose of their application is: isn’t it apparent that the person just wants to connect to the internet? I just wondered.
In the same way, any person who hunts for a VPN service will be doing so because they just wish to connect to the internet in a securely encrypted manner. As to why this should bother anyone, especially one in the ISP business is anybody’s guess.
But why do people use VPN in the first place?
While this question may sound silly, I think it may help to address it. To some extent, it may help one understand why VPN is important in the first place.
Virtual Private Network, or VPN for short,
extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.
This has the answer: people use the VPN because they want the security that a private network offers while connected to a public network.
By “public”, this includes but not limited to, connections at public wifi hotspots, at the office and even any connection at home. Such a connection is encrypted and cannot be snooped easily.
Thus, under normal circumstances, your network provider may be able to detect the sites you connect to (although not what you are exchanging with those sites when you are using an HTTPS connection) — with a VPN, they can only see your connection to your VPN provider. As to other subsequent connections you make, they may never know.
This is a bother to some because they lack control over your communication. This is even more problematic to certain governments as they may not be able to track their citizens using online platforms.
Remember: control means power, and giving it up means the authority may feel vulnerable.
VPN is all about Privacy
At the end of the day, a person uses VPN connection to ensure privacy. We all remember the dark days, in January 2019, when the government tried to ban the use of WhatsApp during public demonstrations. The idea was to limit or trying to control communication amongst the people.
However, in the end, the ban was rendered useless through the use of VPN, and the alternative Telegram platforms.
Almost everyone learnt about VPN:
- How to set it up;
- Its other potential uses other than opening up Whatsapp; and
- The freedom it gives to its user, especially when it opens up access to “forbidden or restricted” sites.1
Although some criminals take advantage of privacy to advance their criminal enterprises, that cannot be used as an excuse to deny others of this service.
Privacy is the foundation of a person’s dignity. Whatever a person does in private does not necessarily aim to injure the public interest.
Just as companies guard their trade secrets to remain competitive, so do individuals need privacy to uphold their esteem.
Dealing with Crime and Terrorism
VPN is not the sole domain of criminals. In fact, cybercrime is just any crime carried out through the use of the cyberspace. This includes:
- International money laundering;
- Child pornography;
- Organising terrorist activities.
People who do this may do so with, or without a VPN. They only require a computer, a secure communication channel such as an email and that’s it.
VPN grants its user the maximum privacy they may require. However, the ethics of using such a service have nothing to do with the person using it.
In any event, it is not enough to just use a VPN without securing the machine you are using: Keyloggers, shoulder snooping and the destination of your communication have all to do with how secure you are.
In future posts, we will discuss securing our communication platforms. Otherwise, technology has nothing to do with the morality of its users. It is only there to be used to advance any cause, be it good or evil.
There are some sites that are restricted to users in certain regions. This is often done as a way to limit the reach of certain content for advertising purposes. So people may end up using VPN to access such sites. ↩︎