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Thursday, 13 April 2017 17:17

Today is National Get a VPN Day

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Marking the deadline for telecommunications and Internet service providers to comply with the Commonwealth Government's telecommunications metadata retention requirements, EFA and other online rights organisations have declared today to be ‘National Get a VPN Day’.

Service providers have struggled to meet the deadline, leading the Communications Alliance to call on the government to cut its members some slack.

But that's only delaying the inevitable. In the near future, service providers will be required to store call information (the number dialled and duration, even if the call is unanswered) for longer than necessary for commercial purposes, the location where a phone or other device was used, the type of communication (email, social media, etc), the source and destination of the communication, the IP address allocated to a user, and other details.

According to EFA executive officer Jon Lawrence, “VPNs are one of the most effective tools for protecting privacy when using the Internet. They provide a degree of anonymity when accessing online services and also protect against eavesdropping and government surveillance.

“We therefore encourage all Australians to consider using an appropriate VPN service when accessing the Internet, and we have published detailed guidance to assist people with choosing the right service for their needs. As with any industry, the quality of VPN services varies considerably, particularly in relation to privacy issues and people should therefore be well-informed before selecting a provider.”

The trouble is that it is difficult to tell whether VPN operators live up to the privacy claims they make. Using a VPN does protect against people eavesdropping on your traffic when connected to a Wi-Fi hotspot, but just because the operator says it doesn't keep any logs and is located in a "privacy friendly" jurisdiction, it's practically impossible to obtain independent confirmation. So as PC Magazine recently put it, "it's getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service and when it's throwing out a lot of fancy words while selling snake oil."

EFA reiterated its calls for an urgent review of the data retention legislation and specifically called for a universal warrant requirement to be introduced for access to retained telecommunications data.

Lawrence said privacy was critical to a number of relationships, including those between journalists and sources, lawyers and clients, and doctors and patients. "The only effective means to achieve such protection is to have a universal warrant requirement for access to retained telecommunications data."

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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