Uganda Wants VPNs to Comply with Its Social Media Tax, or Face Shut Down

Five days ago in Uganda, a controversial law went into effect which levied a so-called social media tax, a daily fee that users would have to pay to unblock various social media and messaging platforms. The affected platforms included Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, and WhatsApp.

A national outcry followed. Activists took to Twitter to voice their disapproval while global human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the move which they described as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, the instigator of the ban, had voiced his qualms about social media, labeling it as a waste of time and resources.

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As a response, users have resorted to VPNs to avoid the tax. A VPN is a service that uses a global network of servers and data encryption to hide users’ activities from internet service providers. As such, a user would be able to request access to an online service without revealing his or her IP address, which telecom companies use to track their subscribers.

And now Ugandan authorities have turned to challenge VPNs. “Telecom companies have been directed to subject the VPN to the tax based on available technology or switch them off,” said Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of the Uganda Communications Commission.

This is not the first time that citizens have resorted to VPNs to bypass internet censorship. It is not the first time that governments have tried to stifle the use of VPNs in response either. The events in Uganda bear an eerie similarity to what happened in China. The Chinese government had blocked what it deems as ‘foreign media’ – such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and WhatsApp  – and made the use of VPNs illegal.

Both stories have the same beginning, so it would be safe to assume that VPNs will prevail in Uganda in the same way they did in China.

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