Recently metadata retention laws came into effect in Australia and your activities both online and offline are being tracked and stored for up to two years all under the guise of terrorism.
Ironically the very law that is supposedly meant to protect Australian citizens might end up doing the opposite. Every call, text, web search or activity you do that can be tracked most likely will be tracked and stored. Depending on who you are or what you do, you might come up as a person of interest in a criminal case and not even know it.
There is also another side of the coin. The recently signed TPP agreement means that US copyright holders will be able to request your metadata if they believe you have illegally downloaded or distributed their content. If you have children who torrent or you torrent, a VPN can protect you from being taken to court and sued.
This is where a VPN (Virtual Private Network) comes into play. Essentially a VPN is a connection between you and a remote server, any request made is done so through this remote server (in many cases outside of Australia) and then the traffic is returned to you. It acts as though you’re using the internet from a completely different computer or device.
Using a VPN pretty much makes you invisible to Australian metadata retention. Of course, like a lot of things in life a VPN does not grant you complete protection but it is better than having no protection. The people from Kotton Grammer Media said that the same goes for using a VPN in the U.S. It all comes down to the fact that something is better than nothing.
The chances of your activities being tracked if using a VPN are quite low to the point where unless you are a suspected terrorist, the government is not going to try and subpoena your VPN provider to get your info. And even then PIA apparently keeps no logs of your activities so it would be a dead end.
A VPN is akin to a deadbolt on your front door and bars on the windows of your house. People can still get to you if they want, but it will be substantially harder for them to do so.
A VPN does not make you immune to privacy breaches, depending on where the VPN exit node is it is possible agencies like the NSA can still track you via other means. It would be naive to think there is a solid and bulletproof solution to protect your privacy, because there is not.
The next best thing to total privacy is taking steps to reduce how we interact with various services like Google or Facebook. A VPN is a great start, but also considering the use of ad blocker plugins for your browser and other tools like Ghostery to reduce your online footprint.
Since talk of the law passing at the beginning year started to circulate, I started trying out various VPN providers. I tried about 4 of them, including a Usenet provider who also offered a free VPN with each account.
There is a minor downside to using a VPN and that is speed. Depending on the location of the VPN server node you connect to, you will experience varying degree of slowdown. Your latency (response time) will also increase, but slower speeds are a small price to pay for privacy and most of the time, you probably won’t even notice.
The best VPN I have come across is a company called Private Internet Access (abbreviated to PIA). This company has been routinely recommended in various articles on sites like Gizmodo and even TorrentFreak (an advocate for privacy and internet user rights).
If you’re in doubt about using a VPN and PIA, don’t be. I have been using them for the last few months not only to protect my privacy but also to access geoblocked content not available in Australia.
Contrary to what you might be told by the media, friends or family, it is not illegal to avoid your metadata being collected. A Virtual Private Network has very credible uses and as such, you will not be jailed or questioned for using a VPN.
The benefits of a VPN far outweigh any miniscule negatives that might be associated with using a VPN. While I can’t vouch for the credibility of the rest, I know I pay $3.99 USD per month for peace of mind and I have had no troubles so far.
If you would like help setting up VPN access or have any questions, leave a comment below and I will be happy to help.