Norway, a country best known for its fjords and picturesque landscapes, has long been recognized as a haven for free speech and democracy. Yet, over the past few years, Norwegian officials have begun to curtail some of these freedoms by limiting access to a growing list of websites. As a result, domestic demand for VPNs in Norway may see an uptick in the coming years.
What’s being censored in Norway?
One recent example involves the government-sanctioned ban on foreign gambling websites that have not acquired licenses to provide their services for customers from Norway. Norwegian ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are now compelled to block a long list of URLs at the DNS level. Surprisingly, users are still able to access each site by typing the IP (Internet Protocol) address directly into the URL bar. Restrictions can also be circumvented with the use of VPN software.
Not to mention, regulators have simultaneously targeted file-sharing services, forcing ISPs to shut down any website found to break the country’s copyright laws. As a result, services such as Primewire, Pirate Bay, and Popcorn Time are no longer accessible, along with several other domains.
Tech experts are concerned about the new restrictions
These actions combined with other court-sanctioned restrictions have caused concern among some of the nation’s leading tech experts. Among the list of critics is Torgeir Waterhouse, the leader of Norway’s national tech-association (IKT Norge).
In an interview with Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, he elaborated more on his reasoning and why he objects to government censorship in cyberspace.
Mr. Waterhouse warns that regulators are “meddling with the core infrastructure of the internet”, calling it a “dangerous door to open”. Furthermore, he says there is “a long line of people and special interest groups waiting to restrict access to other types of content”.
A potential expansion of the country’s online censorship has already become a subject of debate. There is currently a push to curb access to domains hosting content related to certain eating disorders (e.g., anorexia), violence, animal cruelty, and political extremism.
Restrictions may spur increased use of VPNs
As witnessed in Hong Kong, new VPN subscriptions rose significantly in the wake of the new security law’s implementation. It implies that curbing access to the web is unlikely to deter users from accessing restricted content. The same principle will likely apply to Norway, along with other nations.
VPN: A quick explanation
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that helps protect your online privacy by creating a secure connection between your device and the internet.
Here’s how it works. Once the VPN is activated, your internet traffic is routed through a separate server, which in turn obfuscates (English: makes obscure) the real destination. Therefore, ISPs and government agencies are no longer able to censor your traffic nor detect which websites you visit. As a result, you can effectively circumvent government censorship while shielding your anonymity.
Surfshark’s VPN app supports a multitude of platforms, including cell phones, laptops, smart-TVs, and tablets. All you have to do is choose from 3.200 servers spread out over 65 countries and take back your online privacy.
According to the Norwegian tech magazine IT Avisen, Surfshark is the best value VPN service currently on offer within the Norwegian market and the only premium service which allows for an unlimited number of users on the same account.
Is online censorship becoming a European trend?
It should be noted that Norway is not the only liberal country to have chipped away at certain online freedoms. According to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, European nations are now actively restricting access to hundreds of websites within multiple genres.
One example is the British Government’s proposed regulations under the Digital Economy Act of 2017 (dubbed the “Porn Block”), which seeks to ban anyone in Britain from visiting foreign websites with pornographic content unless they verify themselves beforehand. It’s a glaring example of how democratic nations are meddling with the freedom to navigate online.
Intense pressure is coming from special interest groups
Actions taken by European governments and courts are often buoyed by intense pressure from special interest groups.
The most famous of these groups might be the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), which represents powerhouses from the US film and music industry. The MPAA has filed a large number of lawsuits in different European countries, seeking to curb access to websites and services that infringe on their members’ copyrights. In 2016 alone, more than 845 websites were censored by EU authorities.
Instead of taking down the services or applications that serve pirated content through lawsuits, they often resort to banning users from visiting the sites themselves. One tactic includes filing lawsuits directly against ISPs, requesting court-sanctioned injunctions that force service providers to censor a flurry of websites.
That is exactly what happened in Norway when the MPAA sued several smaller-sized ISPs as a means of forcing them to block file-sharing services. The lawsuit was filed shortly after another court case, in which the MPAA successfully sued the country’s 8 largest ISPs.
Where do we draw the line on online censorship?
The underlying question is whether liberal democracies should restrict access to content it regards as being detrimental to the public interest. Should we ban content we don’t like on the basis that it may cause harm to users?
Norway’s ban on unlicensed gambling websites was a direct response to the uptick in gambling disorders, which often leaves its victims in financial ruin. In other words, it puts the need for free speech against protecting certain segments of the population. Yet, this argument can be extended to an endless amount of online genres, which begs the question – where will we draw the line with regards to online censorship?
Moreover, who will prevent liberal democracies from further eroding our freedom of expression? Free speech laws tend to be several decades old in most countries. They were devised during a different period and lacked adequate protections for cyberspace. Nor are there any supranational organizations that hold jurisdiction over online censorship.
Predicting the future is notoriously difficult, but it’s safe to say that VPN applications will continue to play an important role in the future. Especially when considering that even liberal democracies have begun to infringe on their citizens’ right to access information.
Once a government curtails access to one corner of the internet, more restrictions could easily follow. The next 5-10 years will tell us how far governments are willing to go. Meanwhile, Surfshark is ready to meet that future demand through its state of the art VPN application.