What you need to know:
- On Friday, October 13, TCRA directed all individuals and companies that rely on VPN for their operations to declare their VPN usage and provide all relevant information, including their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses
The Tanzania Digital Rights Coalition (TDRC) has raised concerns against the Tanzanian Communication Regulatory Authority's (TCRA) recent statement restricting the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) in Tanzania, saying it was against the universal human right to seek, receive, and impart information.
On Friday, October 13, TCRA directed all individuals and companies that rely on VPN for their operations to declare their VPN usage and provide all relevant information, including their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, to the authority before the end of the month.
The TDRC, a united front of organisations committed to upholding and promoting digital rights, has 23 members, some of whom include JamiiForums, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Twaweza, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders (THRDC), the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs (UTPC), Haki Elimu, Sahara Ventures, and WiLDAF, among others.
The coalition believes that such demands for personal information without a clear and compelling reason are invasive.
The Executive Director of LP Digital, Carol Ndosi, said they call on the government and TCRA to reconsider their decision to restrict VPN usage and instead engage in constructive dialogue with civil society organisations, businesses, and citizens to address concerns while upholding digital rights.
"We stand ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to find solutions that balance national security concerns with the protection of digital rights. We remain committed to promoting a free, open, and secure digital environment for all Tanzanian citizens," she said.
Ndosi said they believe that the right to access information, maintain privacy, and express oneself freely on the internet is fundamental to a democratic and inclusive society.
She said TCRA's decision to limit the use of VPNs in Tanzania has far-reaching implications for the digital rights and freedoms of Tanzanian citizens.
"VPNs play a crucial role in safeguarding online privacy, enabling secure communication, and granting access to information and services that may otherwise be restricted or censored. Furthermore, VPNs are essential tools for many businesses, researchers, and individuals to access online resources securely and conduct their activities without undue interference," she said.
She stressed that one notable consequence of this restriction is that it impedes access to platforms like Clubhouse, which has been inaccessible without a VPN in Tanzania since February 2023.
The availability of Clubhouse through VPNs has allowed citizens to participate in global conversations, share their perspectives, and engage with a diverse range of ideas.
VPNs allow individuals in Tanzania and elsewhere to access information without the fear of censorship or surveillance, thus upholding the universal human right to seek, receive, and impart information.
"VPN plays a pivotal role in safeguarding users against cyber threats, unauthorised surveillance, and data breaches," she said.
Therefore, she said, requiring individuals and companies in Tanzania to declare their VPN usage and provide their IP addresses to the authority infringes upon the fundamental right to privacy.
Meanwhile, the co-founder of JonSoft Group and also the co-founder of the KINU Innovation Hub, Jones Mrusha, said it is not just for digital companies; companies with a significant information technology communication infrastructure have VPNs to connect with their branches or even other associates like companies, regulators, and authorities.
"Their technology strategy and operations will be significantly impacted, with resources to be invested in registering all the VPNs in a short time and managing changes that are constant," he said.
He said TCRA has always been practical and could extend the deadline beyond October 30, 2023.