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VPNs given the axe in Uganda as social media tax kicks in

Ugandans have to pay five cents every day to continue using Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp in the country

Ugandan woman using a cell phone

From 1 July, Ugandans have to pay a tax of five cents every day for social media access.

Godong/UIG via Getty Images

Uganda has declared war on virtual private networks.

The Uganda Communications Commission has ordered telecom companies to tax or block VPNs as more people turn to them to access social media without paying the new levies that came into effect this month, local media reported Tuesday.

Dubbed the social media tax, a daily charge of five cents for social media usage, was passed to control "gossip." It has been criticised by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which have called the new tax "troubling" and an "affront to ... basic human rights," as well as a draconian attempt to rob "many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights."

A local tech company also filed a lawsuit accusing the government and its new tax of breaching net neutrality principles. Petitioners are demanding the country's constitutional court overturn the tax and declare it "illegal, null and void."

It appears the country has taken a leaf out of China's book. The country, where foreign media such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and WhatsApp are blocked, embarked on efforts to block VPNs beginning last year, with Apple removing VPN apps from its China App Store in July to stay compliant with local regulations.

"Telecom companies have been directed to subject the VPN to the tax based on available technology or switch them off one by one because [there] are many," Godfrey Mutabazi, executive director of the UCC was quoted as saying to the press.

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