Did Russia really ban VPNs?

Privacy news
2 mins
Are VPNs banned in Russia?

NOTE: This post was originally published on August 2, 2017

You may have seen the dramatic headlines in recent days claiming that “Russia is banning VPNs too” and drawing parallels to Apple’s recent removal of VPNs from its China App Store, but what’s the real story?

Yes, Putin and the Russian parliament have indeed passed a new amendment with the intention of reinforcing the government’s censorship efforts, but it’s far from a blanket ban on VPNs.

Russia’s VPN amendment: Lots of bark, but will it bite?

Instead, the amendment looks to strong-arm VPN services into complying with Russia’s censorship regime – that is, block any websites blacklisted by the country’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor.

It’s unclear, however, exactly how Russia intends to put this new regulation into practice when it takes effect on November 1st, 2017. It appears both the Federal Security Service (FSB) and ISPs will be tasked with identifying and cracking down on VPNs, but as we’ve seen in other high-censorship countries, enforcement is a game of cat-and-mouse wherein censors lack the means to eliminate VPN traffic completely. Doing so would require them to take impractical measures with far-worse consequences, such as completely shutting down connectivity to the global internet.

The escalating assault on freedom in Russia

The practicalities of enforcement aside, there’s no doubt that Putin is tightening the censorship screws in Russia. On the same day, another amendment passed that requires messaging apps to associate users with real identities from Jan 1st, 2018. Even end-to-end encrypted chats must follow this law that will allow Russian officials to associate collected metadata with individuals.

Both are part of a disturbing trend of increasing attacks on freedom of expression in Russia under Putin’s rule, with restrictions on and internet surveillance of online activity escalating rapidly over the past five years. The 2016 Yarovaya law, for example, demands all ISPs keep metadata on customers for at least six months, and allow Russian officials to build thorough profiles of internet users. A 2015 law prohibits the storage of the personal data of Russian citizens on servers outside the nation.

ExpressVPN’s unwavering commitment to privacy

Not coincidentally, these developments only make the security, privacy, and connectivity that VPNs provide more critical than ever. The very purpose of the VPN community is to combat such assaults on free expression.

As a privacy company, ExpressVPN will certainly never bow to any regulations that compromise our product’s ability to protect the digital rights of users. More than ever, we’re committed to keeping our users stay connected to the free and open internet, no matter where they are.

I'm a Network Operations Analyst at ExpressVPN, and I love all things tech, privacy, and martial arts!