Tanzanians Risk Jail Time For Using VPNs

TCRA VPN Permits regulations

The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has moved to clamp down on the use of Virtual Private Networks in the country. TCRA  cites Regulation 16(2) of the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations of 2020, which prevents Tanzanians from accessing content deemed illegal.

Schedule III of the regulations enacted in July 2020 contains 10 categories of prohibited content. ICT authority has already blocked the illegal content on local networks. Now, it has taken further action to prevent access. Henceforth, Tanzanians must obtain VPN permits.

In a statement to the public, the authority wrote: “TCRA informs the general public, individuals, and companies that, in the course of their duties and activities, the use of private networks (VPN) is not prohibited. They are required to report to TCRA the VPNs they use and provide all necessary information,”

Before October 30, 2023 residents and citizens wishing to use a VPN must fill out a form available on the website. The form requires a number of information including individual user IP addresses. The form has two categories, one for individual use and the other for company use.

The authority reminded the public that contravening the regulation is a punishable criminal offence. Lack of the permit can attract a fine of TSh 5 million (USD1,997) or a minimum of 12 months in prison. Essentially, a tool that gives users freedom of the internet, may deny them freedom in the real world.

A VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your internet connection, so you can browse with increased privacy. In many countries, users use a VPN to unblock websites that a government has censored and get unrestricted access to the internet.

The move by TCRA has created an uproar among digital activists. It is seen as a censorship move that denies Tanzanians their right to information. Further, it is seen by activists as an act that will increase government surveillance.

Tanzania becomes the second country in the East African Community to set restrictions on the use of VPNs. After introducing the Social Media tax, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), began blocking the use of VPNs. UCC claimed Ugandans were using VPNS to circumvent the tax.