Response to the VPN Regulation Public Consultation

I just sent an email with my response to the TRA’s public consultation paper on the upcoming ban of VPN in Oman. I’m basically suggesting that they make a more precise definition for VPN and introduce an exemption for students to use VPN if they have to.

You can read my response here [PDF].

The deadline for responding to the public consultation paper is September 20th, if you have something to say to the TRA this is your chance to do it.

Private Use of VPN to be Prohibited in Oman

The Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) has recently published a draft regulation on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) (Arabic text) in Oman. The TRA is seeking public opinion on the matter before passing this regulation as law. The short summary of this regulation is that the use of VPN by individuals will be illegal, a fine of RO 500 will be charged for personal use and RO 1000 for commercial use.

The use VPN specifically wasn’t regulated before, but it could be argued that it’s use has always been illegal as a form of unlicensed encrypted communication. This new regulation makes it clearly an offense to use VPN at home, and allows it only to private and public institution who have to apply for TRA’s approval before using VPN, the TRA also retains to right to object to any grant this approval without provide reasons for this objection.

It it easy to understand why the TRA is prohibiting the use of VPNs as their primary use in this country is to bypass ISP censorship and the prohibition of the use of VOIP. A few also use VPN service to fake their IP location in order to use services offered in a region only (e.g. Hulu).

However, there are companies and institutions that rely on VPN services to conduct their business as security measures and communications with their international partners require the security of VPN network, for this specific purpose the use of VPN by companies will be allowed upon registration with the TRA.

I think there is a small case to argue that the use of VPN is necessary for individuals who study on long-distance programs as some universities offer access to their subscription based educational resources (e.g. Lexis Nexus and Westlaw) and blackboard through university VPN. When I was doing my masters at Southampton university I couldn’t access the university’s VPN when I was in Oman.

According to Article 1 of the regulation VPN is defined as follows: “a private information network  for private use made through the use of connections with a public communications network.”

It should be noted that this definition of VPN is wide and could catch uses which have nothing to do with bypassing the regulation, for example, you cannot establish a VPN to connect to your computer wirelessly through your mobile phone in order to share files between your computer and your phone. It might also cover networks created for multiplayer gaming.

Though a big worry for users of VPN, there isn’t much that can be done about this regulation as it seems to be in accordance with the telecom law and the general censorship policy in the country.

If you have any suggestions to make to the TRA on how this regulation should be amended you can send them an email at fpconsulting@tra.gov.om by the 20th of September 2010.