Rogers Calls for End to VPNs

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.


3 responses to “Rogers Calls for End to VPNs”

  1. judmicha

    This position also puts Purdy in lockstep with hardliners in the Chinese government who see VPNs as a threat to total state control over the internet. If you are inside China and you want to read the New York Times, watch Youtube, communicate via Gmail, your only option is to use a VPN. The availability of VPNs is a huge crack in the wall of internet censorship in China and elsewhere. It would be sad if internet censors in those countries were given moral support and legitimacy by the adoption of similarly misguided policies in Canada.

  2. Ryan Vogt

    Oh, absolutely, both from a moral and technical perspective. I agree unconditionally with your statement about the moral support and legitimacy.

    Just to build on that idea from a technical perspective: the arms race is almost comical in how easy it is to bypass the Great Firewall of China* on a mere handheld decide — and this statement isn’t something that I have to prefix with, “For the tech-savvy”. I mean, that link is basically a step-by-step. Would anyone really want to cripple an essential element of Internet connectivity within Canada when (a) it would be for questionable purposes at best; and, (b) it could be bypassed at the mere cost of constant frustration for users and system administrators everywhere?

    * On the topic of the GFoC, here’s a cool, short paper entitled “Good” Worms and Human Rights from UofC and UNSW, which looks at both the technical and legal implications of breaching the Great Firewall of China from the outside-in, and back inside-out. It’s a collaborative work between a Department of Computer Science (full disclosure: first author was my MSc supervisor) and a Faculty of Law, and should be accessible to anyone in either field.

  3. Ryan Vogt

    A relevant follow-up article: U.K. Parliament says banning Tor is unacceptable and impossible. Tor is an anonymous Internet-communication network.


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