Uganda Bans VPNs To Prevent Users From Dodging Its Absurd New Social Media Tax
from the kick-'em-when-they're-down dept
Countries around the world continue to wage their not so subtle war on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and encryption. In Russia, the government has all but banned the use of VPNs by layering all manner of obnoxious restrictions and caveats on VPN operators. The goal, as we’ve seen in China and countless other countries, is to ban VPN use without making it explicitly clear you’re banning VPN use. The deeper goal is always the same: less privacy and online freedom for users who use such tools to dodge surveillance or other, even dumber government policies.
Case in point: Uganda recently decided it would be a great idea to impose a new 200 Uganda shilling ($0.05) tax on the use of social networking websites. President Yoweri Museveni pushed for the changes to combat what he calls “gossip,” and now users have to pay the 200 shilling fee each day just to access websites and services like Facebook, Whatsapp, and Twitter. $20 more per year is not an insubstantial sum in a country where the average income is around $600, and the average Ugandan survives on usually less than a dollar per day.
The tax is, not surprisingly, not being received well:
Those saying 200/- is little money or that VPNs cost more forget that people are not protesting the amount being paid, but the principle behind taxing every little thing from an already suffering economy so a corrupt government can get even more money to steal.#SocialMediaTax
— Solomon King (@solomonking) July 1, 2018
That money is not little, who they lying to? The people who are the future-young people, university students, struggling solo entrepreneurs, rural dwellers etc-cannot fathom paying this daily, let alone the month package.
— Lindsey Kukunda (@RizaLouise) July 1, 2018
The nation’s wireless carriers were quick to comply, informing users they should use mobile payment services to pay the government tax:
Shockingly, VPN use has soared in the country as users try to dodge the new tax. Predicting this, Uganda’s government has doubled down on bad ideas, and has been pressuring ISPs to ban VPN use. In a statement posted at Facebook (200 Uganda shillings, please), the Ugandan government tries to deter VPN use by trying to claim using VPNs will cost more than the cost of bandwidth and the social media tax, since VPN encryption utilizes slightly more bandwidth and most user connections have caps and overage fees:
“…if you think it is cheaper to use VPN than paying Shs 200/day, I think it is very unwise to think that because the data consumption under VPN is very high, I think you?re aware of that. We have technology that will block the VPN services so that no one dodges the taxes. Different VPN systems continue to come with more advanced features to circumvent government crackdowns but governments around the world have continued to block them.”
Let the game of Whac-a-Mole commence.