British minister says VPN technology can’t be outlawed

“You can’t outlaw a key technology.”

This is what Britain’s Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe told the Straits Times last September 22. The Minister said that Virtual Private Network or VPN technology can’t be outlawed if it is used for accessing unauthorized content from overseas.

VPN is a network constructed by using public wires, like the Internet, to connect to a private network. Different types of VPN service exists today, such as FrootVPN, a Swedish VPN tunneling service.

According to the minister, this is because the network has legitimate use — for instance, securing corporate access to information over the net.

She gave this comment while in a two-day visit in Singapore, where she witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Britain’s Intellectual Property Office and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) to explore ways to protect and derive economic benefits from intellectual property rights.

This is in time with the trend in Singapore where consumers are using VPN to stream movies from United States service providers such as Netflix and Hulu, two of the many sites which block overseas access.

By using a VPN service, anyone can unblock contents and be able to access any sites, even when one is in a country where access is denied. The user’s IP address is being switched to a new one to make it look like the user is in a different location and bypass any restrictions. Aside from the said online services, other networking sites such as Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and others, can’t be accessed in some other countries.

While countries like Australia may already be considering blocking VPN, under new copyright laws made by its legislative body, to counter piracy and the access to contents that are blocked in their region, in Singapore however, it is different. Consumers do not necessarily break any laws for streaming blocked content from legitimate video-streaming sites.

Yet, according to the experts, these consumers may be breaching these online content service providers’ terms of use.

But Baroness Neville-Rolfe said that despite all these problems, it can be discussed by making more services available online and across more markets. She even cited recent attempts by the European Union to create a “digital single market” for online firms in Europe as a learning point for Singapore.

For instance, to let people access the same legitimate content and services anywhere in Europe, are expected by year-end, she said.

She also added that, “Singapore is an influential voice on issues of IP in the ASEAN region.”

“Singapore sits in the apex of the future single market in ASEAN… we can look at some of these issues in the future,” she also added, referring to what the MOU would allude to.

This may only be the start of other attempts to solve and settle down issues regarding internet access while using VPNs. Still, VPN technology is a great key for anyone to be secured online, excluding the issues concerning unblocking website contents and piracy.