Proton provides free VPN servers in lead up to elections

This year, democracy is on the ballot. Over 60 countries that are home to nearly 4 billion people — half the globe’s population — will hold national elections, meaning more people will vote in 2024 than ever before in history. This is a watershed moment for democracy itself. Over the past several years, new, developing, and established democracies have all suffered setbacks and undermined the human rights they’re meant to uphold. As a result, dozens of elections will be held this year in countries where the government has a history of censorship and misinformation campaigns. 

We want to ensure everyone can access accurate information before they go to the polls, which is why Proton VPN will support voters wherever we can by providing free VPN servers in countries with a history of censorship or political interference in the weeks leading up to their election. 

At Proton, our mission is to build a better internet where privacy and freedom are the default. We view democracy and democratic values as the best way to preserve the right to privacy and personal liberty. If this year’s elections are held fairly and transparently, and if the results are accepted, it would go a long way towards helping consolidate democratic norms around the globe. 

We want to do everything we can in this pivotal year to defend democracy and help everyone research and make informed choices when they cast their vote.

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People rely on VPNs to defeat censorship

VPNs have become vital anti-censorship tools, allowing people to find trustworthy news sources and access blocked content. We see a spike in Proton VPN signups every time there’s a contentious election, natural disaster, or other crisis. 

Learn how VPNs bypass censorship

Relying on our seven years of experience running Proton VPN, we made seven predictions for what would happen to the internet this year, two of which were increased censorship and AI-powered misinformation campaigns. If the elections in January and February are any indication, we may have underestimated how prevalent these issues would be.

In Bangladesh(new window), Taiwan(new window), and Pakistan(new window), AI-generated videos, also known as “deepfakes”, figured prominently in the runup to the elections. Meanwhile, the governments in Pakistan(new window) and Senegal(new window) repeatedly blocked social media sites to silence their opposition. And with elections scheduled for later in the year in Rwanda and Turkey, both home to governments that have led sophisticated censorship and misinformation campaigns in the past, even worse censorship and disinformation is likely.

This underlines how crucial the internet — and VPNs — are to the political landscape in 2024, which is why we feel we must act. 

Defending democracy

To ensure that everyone can access accurate, reliable, and trustworthy information, Proton VPN will make VPN servers available for free two weeks before elections in several countries with histories of misinformation and censorship. These servers will continue to be free for a week after the elections as well. Note that this availability range could be extended depending on the situation in the country. 

You can find a list of where these free VPN servers will appear below:

CountryElection day
IndonesiaFebruary 14
CambodiaFebruary 25
SenegalMarch 24
Turkey (local elections)March 31 
PakistanApril 20
Togo (Parliamentary election)April 29
ChadMay 6
MauritaniaJune 29
RwandaJuly 15
SyriaJuly 15
VenezuelaJuly 28
AlgeriaSeptember 7
JordanSeptember 10
BrazilOctober 6
MozambiqueOctober 9
Somaliland November 13
Mauritius November 30
Sri LankaTBD

Note that this list may shift as elections are postponed or rescheduled (as has already happened with Senegal). We’ll also be monitoring the situation in other countries and may provide additional free servers depending on events. We’ll update this table accordingly and you can keep up with the latest news by following us on X(new window)

This initiative was made possible thanks to Proton VPN’s Smart Routing technology. Smart Routing is a technology that allows us to offer VPN servers in countries we might not otherwise be able to due to poor legal protections or unstable infrastructure. Instead, Proton VPN uses servers located in neighboring countries that simulate the IP address of the country in question. This makes it easier for us to make our VPN service available to people in countries where the legal protections or infrastructure aren’t sufficient. 

Smart Routing servers are bare metal VPN servers that we provision through trusted partners, so they are as secure as any other Proton VPN server. When using a Smart Routing server, you will appear to access the internet from that location and benefit from all the features and security advantages of using Proton VPN. 

In addition to Smart Routing, Proton VPN also offers advanced anti-censorship features that most other VPNs lack. 

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Proton VPN has advanced anti-censorship features

Repressive governments have noticed how VPNs undermine their censorship efforts, leading them to target VPNs themselves with blocks, which in turn has driven us to develop new anti-censorship features. 

At Proton VPN, we’ve gone a step beyond, creating advanced new features that have proven effective against some of the sophisticated implementations of online censorship. These features include:

  • Alternative routing(new window) — Routes your connection through third-party services that are unlikely to be blocked, like AWS
  • Smart Protocol — Detects local VPN censorship attempts and automatically switches to VPN protocols that are harder to block
  • Stealth VPN protocol — A custom-built VPN protocol that disguises your VPN connection and makes it look like standard internet traffic
  • VPN Accelerator — Accessing VPN servers outside your country is what lets you bypass local censorship. Our unique VPN Accelerator technology allows you to maintain fast VPN browsing speeds even when you’re connected to distant VPN servers. 

We also launched our VPN Observatory that let’s anyone see spikes in Proton VPN signups and usage in real time, making it an effective measurement of anti-censorship activity in response to various crises worldwide. 

Putting the Proton mission into action

The past 10 years have seen assaults on democratic institutions and ideals in autocracies (like Russia), fledgling democracies (like Tunisia), and established democracies (like the US) alike. The good news, according to Freedom House’s 2023 report(new window), is that last year, the number of democracies that advanced political rights and civil liberties (34) nearly matched the number of democracies that backslid (35) for the first time in 17 years. If this year’s elections go well, this could be the first year in nearly two decades when the globe became more democratic overall. 

By providing these free VPN servers to the people most likely to face censorship, we want to ensure people everywhere can get the information they need and have a right to receive. Like Lifetime Account Charity Fundraiser, it’s a concrete example of our commitment to our principles. We believe everyone everywhere has the right to privacy and the right to self-determination, and we will help them protect these rights, regardless of their technical capacity or ability to pay.

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