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More UK Citizens are into VPNs, and They are Justified

In the last three years, the number of UK citizens using VPNs has jumped from around 16% to over 40%. It is a variety of reasons that has caused this huge growth. The most recent to join the list is, of course, the COVID 19 pandemic. Many companies have had to encourage their employees to work from home to avoid spreading the virus. As the employees access sensitive information systems remotely, VPNs form part of the security measures to prevent data security breaches.

The other reason in the list is that it has become cheaper and easier to download a VPN or set it up.

Mass surveillance as a reason

However, the most persuasive reason on the list is the growing need of the UK government to do mass surveillance on the British people. In late 2016, the UK parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act. The new law gave a significant amount of power to the intelligence agencies as well as national and local law enforcement institutions. That includes the power to access personal data that passes through all communication channels, including the internet and satellite channels.

The law also requires that internet service providers (ISP) and other similar entities that handle or facilitate communication to store user data, including the websites visited and the activity on messaging apps for at least a year. They are required to pass over this data to government agencies.

The law was challenged at the European Union’s highest court and was indeed declared illegal. However, the British government has seemed to ignore this ruling. And given that the UK is leaving the EU, it is most likely that at least some elements of the law are here to stay.

Of course, the argument by those who support it is that it protects the public from criminals and, in particular, terrorists. However, the opponents think that the powers the law gives the government to collect and monitor user data are unwarranted.

Sir David Omand, a former director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), has defended the law in the past stating that ‘we have given our secret agencies and the police the powers to acquire certain information to keep us safe, for very good reasons because there are people out there who mean us serious harm.’

GCHQ is a national security and intelligence body that collects and shares information with different security entities.

Sir David Omand justifies further the need for the law by stating that the intelligence community has always carried out mass surveillance, especially online activity. In his opinion, the law is a step towards formalizing and giving a legal basis for the processes and mechanisms they have always used, and in the process, makes them a little more transparent.

However, the opponents are against the fact that even when there is a need for surveillance to protect the public, it is not on a need-to-know basis. That means that you could be doing very harmless and innocent things online, but still, your private messages and other forms of personal and business data are going to be archived by your ISP and the GCHQ.

Privacy is now an individual responsibility

With every indication showing that mass surveillance in the UK is not going to relent, at least not any time soon, the individual citizen has to do something to protect his or her privacy. And one way to do that is to use virtual private networks (VPN).

Indeed, this is the reason many across the country are embracing this technology.

The VPNs prevent third parties like the government and your ISP from tracking your online activity. How it does that is that instead of your data being released to the internet through your known IP address, it is released through a server IP address owned by a third party, a VPN company. For example, if you use a VPN service like Cyberghostvpn.com, you will only use their private servers to surf the Internet.

Besides, before the data reaches the third party server, it is encrypted. That means your ISP can’t read the contents of your communications, and therefore they don’t have anything legible to store or share with the secret agencies.

Meanwhile, the third party server whose IP your data assumes when it goes online doesn’t have to be in the UK. That means your data can be encrypted and sent to a city in the US from where it is released to the public.

That way, you circumvent the internet service provider in the UK that is under a legal obligation to keep records of your activity online and pass that information over to the government agencies in the UK.

It is important to note that it is not only the government that you protect yourself from when you use a VPN. You also protect your communication from private entities that need your data for algorithm training or marketing purposes.