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:

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.


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 6:43am

    "We have technology that will block the VPN services so that no one dodges the taxes"

    Luckily, there's no Ugandan businesses, banks, teleworkers or anyone else who would need to use a VPN for anything legitimate and useful to the economy. Certainly nobody who needs to protect their data from anything other than the local government. Because that would make this sort of thing even sillier than just trying to enforce a tax because you don't like what some people are talking about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 8:40am

      Re:

      They didn't say they'd "block VPNs", they said "block Virtual Private Networks (VPN) applications that are aiding Ugandans to evade social media tax." Depending on how you read that, VPNs that cannot be used to avoid the tax — like bank/business VPNs that block social media — might not be affected.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:03am

        Re: Re:

        Well, it certainly is worded in a way that allows them to claim that anyone they block deserves it even if they have legitimate uses, I'll give them that.

        "Depending on how you read that, VPNs that cannot be used to avoid the tax — like bank/business VPNs that block social media — might not be affected."

        OK. I have a copy of OpenVPN. Am I using it to connect to a server for work purposes from home? Am I doing it to protect financial or personal information for my company's clients? Am I using it just so I don't risk my laptop being compromised while using public wifi access? Am I using it to bypass geo-restrictions on Netflix? Am I using it to avoid taxes? Then, what's the action? Do struggling businesses have to pay taxes for things they don't do, or do you outlaw VPNs that are properly configurable (and thus block a lot of legitimate business activity)?

        The point is, while it may exclude certain pre-configured VPNs that have already passed some kind of test, there's a hell of a lot of types of VPN that don't conform to that, and without compromising the traffic you can't know what each one is being used for. If you only target things like preconfigured apps that are sold as a censorship bypass, there's still going to be a lot of people using an open solution. If you block the open solution, lots of international partners aren't going to be doing business with Ugandans.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I have a copy of OpenVPN. ... Am I using it to avoid taxes?

          If both ends are in the same country, and you're not sharing with multiple users, no tax would be avoided. With internet surveillance, it's not so hard to figure that out (if a VPN server accesses Facebook, and has multiple clients, it might be tax evasion; businesses won't fit this profile if they block Facebook).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:23am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "If both ends are in the same country, and you're not sharing with multiple users, no tax would be avoided."

            So, international collaboration is right out, then, or is it just accepted that the tax has to payable to the government just in case? Must be a joy for small businesses and contractors, since you're not going to get any such work with any reasonably savvy client without VPN access to their infrastructure.

            "if a VPN server accesses Facebook"

            ...and if that server is based in another country, but you're just a contractor working for that company and have nothing to do with the people in their offices who access Facebook quite legally?

            You get where I'm going here. Either this restricts people performing legitimate business to only work inside borders and/or without a VPN (a massive disadvantage for numerous business sectors), or everyone's paying the tax whether they can afford it or not as a cost of doing business.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Either this restricts people performing legitimate business

              Of course there's gonna be a ton of collateral damage, as happens in VPN-banning countries like China. It tends not to stop governments from making these ham-fisted attempts.

              Polls show Uganda's government is considered one of the most corrupt in the world, so don't assume everyone using a VPN will be paying the tax.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 7 Jul 2018 @ 7:12pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                "Polls show Uganda's government is considered one of the most corrupt in the world, so don't assume everyone using a VPN will be paying the tax."

                No, presumably just the poor and honest people. Which makes this a bigger problem.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Dave, 6 Jul 2018 @ 12:38pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Pretty dumb comments.

              Even for you Paul.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2018 @ 12:24am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Thanks for logging in just to be a dipshit. We all now know at least, that you are kinda dumb.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  The Wanderer (profile), 7 Jul 2018 @ 4:22am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  He didn't log in. Logged-in people don't get the colored-snowflake avatar images; a logged-in person with no designated image gets a silhouette, like the one I currently have.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 7 Jul 2018 @ 7:13pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Well, thank you for the detailed analysis of exactly where I was wrong. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

                In other words, you have noting, again...

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 12:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Actually, there is a way, if you are travelling there, to avoid the VPN block.

          I found a way around the filtering at one Taco Bell franchaise that previous owners had.

          With SoftEther on my home computer, I could first connect via the SSL VPN on port 443, and then connect my normal VPN, using the internal address on my network for it, instead of the external address. If I used the external address, it would be blocked, but the using the internaal address for my PPTP VPN server, on my network, the connection want through.

          I could then totally bypass the monitor they had set up to detect if you tried to sneak past the filter using a proxy. The SSL sniffer they had was neutered, when I connected to the PPTP VPN on my home network, using its internal address of 192.168.1.1, instead of the external address I had.

          For exmaple, Live 365, which I used for my online radio station I had it, was blocked, but using this workaround I found allowed to me to totally bypass all filtering, and their SSL sniffer.

          When I did that, I did not break any California or federal laws getting around their filter like that

          Bypassing web filtering does not break the CFAA, so I did not break either the CFAA, or any California law, when I used the workaround I found to bypass the filtering system that Taco Bell restaurant had, at the time, to be able to access the website for my online radio station, which was also blocked, as all audio/video streaming sites were blocked by that filter.

          In short, you could do this, if you travel to Uganda, and it will likely work. Just make sure your home broadband access has a static IP, and allows servers. You just then install SoftEther on your computer, and setup the login credentials. Just be sure to open the needed ports on your router, and you will be good to go.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 6 Jul 2018 @ 6:44am

    "Data consumption under VPN is very high"

    Yes and no. VPN traffic cannot be meaningfully compressed, but any compression happening outside of the user's control does not decrease the bandwidth billed to the user, just the bandwidth used by the carrier.

    So VPN usage will drive up general carrier costs (and thus everybody's bill) though increasingly less so as https and other encrypted traffic forms become commonplace, thwarting compressibility again. But it's not the VPN users in particular that will pay for that cost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 7:02am

      Re: "Data consumption under VPN is very high"

      Whats wrong with compression at the browser and service, that way it stays compressed through the VPN?

      Also, if the carrier is so near capacity that they have to use effective compression to keep their response times reasonable, they need to increase the capacity of their infrastructure.

      Where VPN use can have an impact on traffic is where it causes the nodes of a CDN near the user to be bypassed, for nodes near to the VPN, That is not likely to be a problem for most social media, as the CDNs tend to be country level, not city level.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 7:33am

      Re: "Data consumption under VPN is very high"

      Oh - well, no worries then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mojo jojo, 6 Jul 2018 @ 7:39am

    Cue OOTB usual spiel about anyone is filthy pirate and he is such a still for RIAA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 8:43am

    WAKANDA FOREVER!!!!


    Too soon?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 8:55am

    Gotta go back... FAST!

    Knuckles, your homeland needs you!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:02am

    "Shithole" Countries

    Uganda is one of the poorest and most backward countries on the planet. Like the entire region of central Africa, it's hardly fair to criticize a country that's just barely emerging from the Stone Age and whose many problems are far worse than issues of VPNs and other playthings of the rich.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:07am

      Re:

      Please return to the MAGA forum from whence you came.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:44am

      Re: "Shithole" Countries

      What may be a plaything for the rich can be an important tool for the poor. Facebook etc. allows poor farmers for example to compare notes, seek and obtain advice, and keep up with markets.

      It also allows them to organize to better their situations, but then the rich cannot have them doing that because that threatens the privileges enjoyed by the rich.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 10:40am

      Re: "Shithole" Countries

      it's hardly fair to criticize a country that's just barely emerging from the Stone Age and whose many problems are far worse than issues of VPNs

      Of course it's fair. They decided this was important enough to legislate. They could have focussed on important problems, like hunger, but they chose to create a new problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay Fude (profile), 6 Jul 2018 @ 9:16am

    Alternatives

    Would TOR help the Ugandans? No higher bandwidth, no paying for a VPN? I would use my Google Fiber and Linux box power to help run an exit node for them if it would help. If We the People just band together, like we did for SOPA, etc, we could maybe yank power away from all governments. I haven't seen one yet that didn't have more power than the people want it to have.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 11:21am

    If I'm FACEBOOK, can I get a portion of their tax money ?

    I mean, aren't they making money out of my product ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 4:30pm

    Eventually, most websites on the current internet will block Tor and VPNs; it's already happening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2018 @ 4:43pm

      Re:

      Possibly. Using a VPN to bypass country restrictions does not break any laws in Canada, Australia, the Eu, the US, or the UK. So blocking VPNs will be the only way to enforce geo restrictions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tic toc, 7 Jul 2018 @ 6:02am

    thoughts

    ugandans must have thought something on long term basis. They are not a fool to take such a decision without any secondary thoughts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Narfy, 7 Jul 2018 @ 10:40am

    Coming to America

    If the SJWs get their way, this will be coming to the US. Freedom of speech is already under attack at taxpayer funded public universities, and people are hounded in public over their views and rights to express them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2018 @ 4:17pm

      Re: Coming to America

      No freedom of speech is alive and well. What you want is the ability to have freedom of speech without others having their freedom to express that they find your views abhorrent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2018 @ 11:05am

    Fuck off, spammer

    Die in a fire, spammer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sujoy Mallick, 19 Jul 2018 @ 12:46am

    nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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