In this day and age unlimited internet access has become integral part of our life to the point that people will show actual signs of anxiety when a net connection is unavailable. Nomophobia – the fear of losing cellular contact with the world – is a direct consequence of the overreliance on smartphones and computers. Luckily, most of us don’t need to be afraid of falling off the grid since internet coverage is on the rise and free Wi-Fi hotspots are everywhere, right?
Well, not unless your government decides to completely block access to the net, which is a possibility if you live in or visit a country in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia which are obsessed with censoring media content. Others, like China, are more keen about blocking certain websites or services. If you hope to take on the authorities and retain your right to the internet, it’s important to know how the process is done as well as the tools to circumvent censorship.
Is It Possible for My Government to Fully Block Internet?
Yes, although the process is more complicated than simply flipping a switch. You see, it all has to do with autonomous system numbers that are distributed by ISPs. Service providers all around the world have to announce the IPs that they provide under their Autonomous System Number (ASN). In order to successfully connect to the internet, your ISP is required to announce the right AS number, otherwise the routing will fail.
If an country leader wants to ruin the whole nation’s internet access, all they have to do is convince the ISPs to stop providing an AS number for its users and the network traffic will plummet into the ground. Obviously, this kind of hostile move is only possible in places where the sole telecommunication company is owned by the state – such as in Ethiopia – or the government has enough power to strong-arm ISPs into cooperation. To add salt to the wound, authorities are typically able to keep using the internet as their IP is exclusively supplied with an AS number.
Other Ways of Censorship
Of course, most countries only resort to shutting down the internet connection as a last resort, which Syria, Egypt and Libya all did during the Arab Summer. Most totalitarian countries prefer the gilded cage approach, blocking access to certain sites and spying on rebellious bloggers. China is probably the most infamous in this regard with their infamous Great Chinese Firewall that not only filters content but also makes connections to certain hosts impossible with a local IP.
The only downside of IP filtering is that the implementation takes a lot of time. Another form of censorship is to simply deny access to certain sites by controlling the country’s top-level domain, although this practice is highly inefficient and easy to circumvent.
Achieving Full Freedom With a VPN
The reasons why countries dabble in censorship vary, with most either seeking to repress critical voices or to prevent citizens from reading how other nations report on the government. While repelling foreign services nurtures home-grown companies and contributes to the economic growth, let’s not forget all this happens at the cost of free speech.
Virtual private networks are universally hailed as the best solution against internet censorship as they work in all the previously mentioned scenarios. Connecting to a foreign VPN server changes your whole IP and therefore you aren’t identified as a country’s inhabitant during ASN checks, which is also true when it comes to filtering and restricting content. For example, if you reside in Russia and wish to use Telegram, your only option is to subscribe to a high-quality VPN and make the online world believe that you are currently in the U.S.
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