- The Pakistani government is moving its encrypted communications ban plans forward.
- VPN services and users will need to register to the state’s systems; otherwise, they will see their network services terminated.
- The users will have to provide ID and the reason why they need to use a VPN tool in the first place.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is reminding netizens in the Asian country that in order to continue using VPN (virtual private network) products, they will have to register their VPNs with the state’s e-services. The deadline for doing so is June 30, 2020, so there are approximately two weeks left to do it. This requirement is following the restrictive regulations that the Pakistani government has developed in the preceding period, looking to tackle supposed national security and safety risks that arise from encrypted network traffic and concealed communications. Inevitably, this undermines the privacy of the internet users in the country, as everyone will now have to register their VPN tunnel with their ISP (internet service provider), who will then share this information with the state.
Pakistan has been trying to put roadblocks in the use of VPN tools since 2011, pressing ISPs in the country to do something about the issue, while also trying to ban all encryption software. Some blocking action did take place through DPI (deep packet inspection), but the country is now moving forward with a more comprehensive blocking layer that resembles that of “the Great Firewall of China.” It means that only registered VPN services and VPN users will continue to enjoy encrypted communications, or whatever useful obfuscation will be left of it.
The users will have to provide their identification number and vow not to use their VPN tools for “Grey” VoIP telephony. Moreover, they will have to explain why they need to use a VPN tool, what types of “non-standard communication” they are planning to engage on, and what kind of data compression will be used. The official reasoning behind this move changed from fighting terrorists that was used in 2011, and now is to tackle illegal VoIP businesses. This, however, looks like another excuse.
In May, NetBlocks reported nation-wide blocks in Pakistan, barring people from accessing Twitter, Periscope, and Zoom, so the state’s target is obviously not only to fight illegal VoIP services. So, starting with the end of this month, ISPs will attempt to block unregistered VPN services and users, and most probably will achieve this goal. As the announcement mentions, those who will continue to use unauthorized VPNs will face action taken against them by the authorities, as well as the immediate termination of their network service by the ISP.