ExpressVPN hopes to circumvent India’s new cybersecurity law by taking its physical servers offline
Will the authorities go on a hunting expedition?
On April 28, the Indian government released new rules requiring all VPN (virtual private network) service providers to store user data for at least five years – even after customers delete their accounts or cancel their subscriptions – under the pretext of fighting cybercrime. The law is due to come into effect later this month and non-compliant companies could face up to a year in jail. While it’s unclear whether this law applies to international providers doing business in India, ExpressVPN is taking no chances and has made the decision to remove servers on Indian soil from its network.
In a blog post, the Lithuania-based VPN provider said that as a company focused on protecting privacy and freedom of expression online, it refuses to participate in “attempts by the Indian government to limit freedom on the Internet”.
The company has assured its vast Indian audience that they will still be able to use ExpressVPN and they will be able to connect to VPN servers based in Singapore or the UK that will grant them virtual Indian IP addresses. This allows Indians to continue using a VPN without having their data stored by the company and returned by the government upon request – as was the case before.
While this all sounds like a win for privacy advocates – other VPN providers will likely follow in ExpressVPN’s footsteps – the Indian government tends to go its own way. Remember the TikTok ban that was so effective in erasing access to the app and dozens of other digital platforms? Section 69A of the Computer Act of the Indian Constitution allows authorities to block such access. So it remains to be seen whether the government will create new firewalls to also block VPN service providers.
VPNs are used by many to access services not available in their country or simply to browse the internet securely and anonymously. The latter is particularly crucial in countries with strict internet censorship – something that is getting worse in India as recent policies have caused its ranking on internet freedom to plummet for several years in a row.