At a conference on 26 February 2015, a Rogers executive called for the Canadian government to shut down VPNs. Here is Dr. Michael Geist’s take on the matter.
VPNs, or “virtual private networks”, are a technology used to securely link two physically non-connected networks, and make it is as though the two were one seamless network (where a “network” can be as small as a single computer).
As related to the current Netflix brouhaha, some Canadians are using VPN technology to seamlessly link their Netflix-enabled device to connect to (and, essentially, become part of) an American network. The device then connects to Netflix via the US network, gaining access to the (larger) location-based library of shows available there.
How do VPNs affect creativity and free speech? As just one example, VPNs were used extensively during the Arab Spring to securely send messages, photos, and videos via another location, helping to protect the identity of the people sending the messages.
Or, if we wanted to help this make sense to Rogers, perhaps we could talk in dollars and cents. Businesses use VPNs extensively. Imagine a business with two different offices, in physically different locations. By VPN’ing the networks at the two offices together, it becomes as though the computers are all on one giant shared network. The file server storing all of the company’s documents can be in Building A, and users in Building B can access it seamlessly. Alice in Building A can print a document directly to Bob’s printer in Building B, just as easily as she could print a document directly to Carol’s printer in Building A.
To try to shut down a communications technology because it can be used for a reason that you do not like is not only foolhardy, but a ridiculous concept anyhow.