Is Using a VPN in Singapore Legal?

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Is Using a VPN in Singapore Legal?

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One of the best reasons to subscribe to a VPN service is to unlock access to library content on streaming services across all regions. However, it seems that due to this very reason, the Singaporean government is looking into reviewing VPN technology as part of proposed changes to their Copyright Law.

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) released a consultation document on 23rd August 2016, with the aim of seeking public feedback on Singapore’s proposed changes to its copyright regime. The public consultation will run for two months and end on 24 October 2016.

The Copyright Act was last amended in 2014, but only last amended significantly in 2004. Currently, the existing law is silent on the legality of using a VPN by its Singapore netizens to unlock geographical restrictions on content, although the law does principally prohibit circumvention.

Therefore, the proposed changes to the current copyright laws are intended to stay in line with technological developments and to review current exceptions that using a VPN still allows for circumventions of “technological protection measures”. Existing exceptions include educational uses of audio-visual works and assistive technologies in e-books.

The ministry said in a press statement,

“Technological developments in the past decade have led to immense changes in how copyrighted works are created, distributed, accessed, and used. Copyright law must keep pace with modern developments so as to support creativity and innovation. This review seeks to ensure our copyright regime continues to provide an environment that benefits both creators and users.”

Would an outright ban on all VPNs in Singapore work?

Although the use of VPNs in Singapore are not explicitly considered illegal, the use of it by the netizens to mask their IP address in order to access blocked overseas market content could be breaching a video-streaming site’s terms of use.

Even on a legitimate online-streaming site, the use of a VPN tool could be considered a copyright infringement if they were used to “knowingly circumvent a technological measure”.

If the Singapore government do elect to implement an outright ban on any Singapore VPN, IPOS is aware of dilemma and complications involved with its ban. While the Internet Society of Singapore recognises the critical role VPNs hold in securing users’ information over the internet, Daren Tang (IPOS chief executive), acknowledged that “there are some concerns that bypassing geo-blocks could infringe copyright”.

Additionally, banning VPNs would seem contradictory to Singapore’s existing policy supporting parallel imports, which is essentially what a VPN allows in the digital world. Tang likened VPN technology as a “digital equivalent of parallel imports”.

While the government may get caught up in outlawing the use of a VPN, who’s to say that frustrated netizens will not turn to alternative sources to access the content? Netizens will feel driven to other streaming sites, which will more often than not be illegitimate sites, yielding reverse results policymakers are aiming to achieve.

What if the government then chooses to be specific in any VPN Singapore usage? Say, by only banning the use of VPNs when circumventing geo-blocks on copyright works that are not locally licensed? This move also seems to be illogical as all VPN data is encrypted and the type of content passing through a VPN’s encrypted tunnel cannot be pin-pointed.

Other proposed changes

While the proposed changes to the Copyright Act are meant to keep pace with technological developments, MinLaw also proposed that data collation be allowed for data mining to support the growth of the data analytics business sector, while seeking permission to use text for data analysis, even if the copyright owner could not be identified or contacted for consent.

While BolehVPN does hold a server in Singapore including several other servers in Asia, it is still unclear how Singapore’s public consultation to review the use of VPNs will lead to an actual ban on its use. Nevertheless, the decision on its ban will undoubtedly hold a great impact on VPN users, as well as for business, technology and innovation.

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