“It’s just like using someone else’s computer or using a computer you trust or own to connect to the Internet on your behalf,” said Mallory Knodel, chief technology officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. note that VPNs are generally used by companies to keep private business internal assets when employees work remotely and as a way to capture content filters.
A diverse and large combination of existing VPN providers, newly created VPNs, and those already in use in Cuba can form a thieving ecosystem and help maintain internet connections as some would inevitably be blocked.
It is unclear when the Biden administration will adopt a VPN system strategy. A senior administration official told POLITICO that they are discussing the provision of LTE wireless communications with private sector providers and continue to explore various options, including stratospheric balloons. The official said the State Department, Commerce, Treasury and Federal Communications Commission have been instructed to develop the required rules, licenses and authorizations.
Senator Bob Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of several Cuban-American leaders Biden met last week, supports the use of VPNs.
“Mayor Menendez believes that this is one of the most effective ways for people on the island to access and share information outside the control of the regime and, as such, has worked through multiple channels to support those efforts,” said Juan Pachón. Menendez spokesman.
The biggest obstacle is the Cuban regime’s ability to shut down the internet throughout the island or in specific regions at any time.
“I think more help, bringing more access to different VPNs [and] faster communication will be appreciated. But this will not solve the issue completely because the main problem is that, once the government shuts down the internet, people do not have access to VPN servers so they can not even use a VPN, “said Salvi Pascual, CEO of Apretaste !, a social networking application that expands internet capabilities, internet services, and intimacy for Cubans.
Even if the regime chose not to shut down the service, there is likely to be a cat-and-mouse game between Cuban internet authorities and VPN servers.
But because most internet traffic would be political, it would be easier for Cuban authorities to track their target, said Jon Callas, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “With an economic embargo, there is no commercial traffic. So is all the political traffic; so that’s why it makes it easy for the Cuban government to shut them down. “
In force since the 1960s, the US embargo prevents most American companies from doing business in Cuba.
According to the Comprehensive Internet Index 2021, a tool commissioned by Facebook and developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit that measures Internet access and affordability across the globe, approximately 31 percent of Cuban households have access to the Internet, ranking 83rd in the availability of 120 seats.
Both Knodel and Callas said a VPN strategy could succeed in the short term, with Knodel noting long-term success will depend on the Cubans’ ability to make “informed choices about how they want to use the internet and what they want to use it for.”
Pascual said VPNs are not foreign to Cubans.
“People in Cuba are already using VPNs,” said Pascual, who thinks the issue stems from US political will and infrastructure construction on the island that the Cuban government does not control – setting up a cell tower at Guantanamo Bay. and suggesting that the US embassy share its Wi-Fi, “which will be easy to spread across Havana through the internal network”.
“Hardly difficult, but I think the key issue now is political will,” he said.
Callas said a VPN strategy is “extremely well-intentioned” but “incredibly simple”.
“While a VPN basically creates a network connection that no one can see its content, they can still see that you are doing it and that means the Cuban government is likely to know what the starting point is. and what is the VPN end point, “he said, noting that the technology would work better when paired with political and economic strategies. “Technical solutions to political and economic problems are always imperfect.”
When working with Cubans, or others facing similar limitations, who are unfamiliar with VPNs, it is important to train with them using trusted community outlets and refrain from politicizing the tool, said Dragana Kaurin , founder and CEO of Localization Lab, a global nonprofit organization that makes open source technology, including VPNs, accessible in under-served regions through collaboration with local developers and organizations.
“When we create technologies like this, as tools of democracy … when we politicize technologies in this way, we, as the developers of these tools, exclude people who do not conform to the whole ideology,” she said.