For those of us who live in relatively safe Western democracies, the ability to be able to express ourselves online is taken for granted. However there are a surprising number of countries where it’s extremely dangerous to speak your mind especially if your views don’t match the state or party line.
The dangers are not always obvious, especially when you see some of the countries that are affected. To see the laid back environment on the Turkish western coast, with tourists sunning themselves you’d think this was a fairly liberal and open place to use the internet. However since the military coup especially you have to be very careful what you say online. Wandering down the streets of a place like Izmir you’d feel safe about talking openly but most Turks are extremely careful due to the number of people who have been imprisoned recently. Most expats who live in Turkey are even careful about what they say online and will rarely post anything political for their own safety.
Other countries like Thailand look fairly relaxed but there are many examples of people being imprisoned for some time simply for posting something online. It’s especially dangerous to post anything negative about the Thai royal family as there are ready made laws which can be used to imprison anyone who does.
Of course, by completely shutting down the use of social media in these countries then in some sense the state has won. What can people do to protect themselves online and still have their voices heard. Well obviously one of the main dangers is with sites like Facebook which require your real identity, this is definitely a bad idea if you want to say anything remotely controversial. However hiding your identity actually takes a little more than using a pseudonym for Facebook.
One of the most useful tools is to use a proxy server or VPN to hide your location further. Many people have used proxies because they hide your location from the server you’re visiting. Although this is a useful step it’s protection is fairly limited. Even if you’re using something anonymous like residential IP addresses like this a proxy still provides only limited protection.
The main problem is that proxies do nothing to protect your data in transit which means that your data is still vulnerable. Any organisation which has access to your ISP logs (and many of these have State run ISPs), will be able to produce a complete list of all your web activity even if you are using a proxy. The safest options to bypass this is to use a VPN which is a virtual private network.
The main advantage of the VPN is that it encrypts your entire connection. This means that it hides your web activity from anyone except the VPN server administrator. If you ensure that teh VPN company you use also keeps no logs then your online activity should be relatively safe. Indeed the added bonus is that if you choose a VPN service with server in different countries you can use it to bypass geo-restrictions too. For example a UK VPN can be used to access the BBC or ITV abroad too.
All your logs will be unreadable as they will be encrypted although it should be noted that it will be possible to determine you’re using a VPN because of the encryption and the limited number of IP addresses in your logs. Some VPN systems allow you to rotate this IP address automatically to reduce the VPN footprint so it’s worth checking out for those too.