Is Albania a good country for VPNs?

1. Freedom of Expression and Censorship

2. P2P and Torrenting Policies

3. Government Surveillance and Data Retention Laws

4. Privacy Protections

Albania, with a “Low” rating on the Privacy Protection Index (PPI), presents a negative outlook for VPN server hosting. The country’s legal framework and infrastructure for internet privacy and security are less developed compared to other countries with higher PPI ratings. Albania’s Electronic Communications Law, which requires electronic communications providers to retain user data for a specified period, raises concerns about potential surveillance and access to user information. Furthermore, Albania is not part of any intelligence-sharing alliances such as the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes; however, the country’s low PPI rating still casts doubt on its suitability as a secure VPN server location.

Freedom of Expression and Censorship

Freedom of expression in Albania is protected by the constitution, specifically in Article 22, which declares that “freedom of expression, press, radio, and television is guaranteed”. It also covers the freedom to publicly express opinions through digital means, reflective of the country’s rapid digitization in recent years. However, despite these formal protections, the country has experienced issues with the enforcement of these rights. For instance, in the sphere of technology and digital communication, a controversial “Anti-Defamation Package” was passed in 2019. This package proposed that websites could be fined or shut down by the Albanian Communications Regulatory Authority if they were deemed to host defamatory content. The law was criticized by many for potentially enabling government censorship of online media, a departure from the traditional understanding of free speech.

Historically, the media landscape in Albania has seen significant transformation. The country transitioned from a strict communist regime, during which the media was entirely state-controlled, to a democratic system in the 1990s that allowed for a plurality of voices. Despite this progress, the implementation of free speech rights has been rocky, with journalists often subjected to threats, intimidation, and violence. These issues have been magnified with the advent of digital media, where online harassment and threats against journalists have become increasingly prevalent. These actions have raised concerns over the true state of freedom of expression in Albania, and the potential for technology to be used as a tool of intimidation and censorship.

P2P, Torrenting, Streaming

In Albania, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and torrenting are generally permitted and not blocked. Major global torrent sites like The Pirate Bay can be readily accessed by internet users in the country. However, Albanian law prohibits the sharing and downloading of copyrighted content without permission. In practice though, these laws are not strongly enforced. There is easy access to pirated movies, TV shows, software, and more via P2P and torrents.

Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others are accessible in Albania but with some limitations. Netflix launched in Albania in 2020 but has a smaller library available compared to other regions. Hulu and some other streaming platforms are not officially available or block their content in Albania due to licensing restrictions. Many Albanians use VPNs to access broader streaming catalogs from abroad. While broadband infrastructure is still developing in parts of Albania, major cities have sufficiently fast internet speeds to support video streaming services. Overall access to both illegal P2P content and legal streaming services is readily available especially in urban areas.

Surveillance and Data Retention

The right to privacy is enshrined in the Albanian constitution, but the government has broad powers to conduct surveillance under the criminal procedure code and anti-terrorism laws. A 2008 law authorized direct access by security institutions to telecommunications user data without court approval. In 2016, Albania passed a National Security Law which granted the Information Service Agency extensive surveillance powers, including access to databases, online communications, and public/private Wi-Fi networks.

Data retention policies have been controversial in Albania. A 2008 law mandated that telecom and internet companies store user metadata for up to two years. This was struck down as unconstitutional in 2014, but a new data retention law was passed in 2017 allowing up to one year of metadata storage. Technology companies have raised concerns about technical burdens and privacy impacts. Activists have argued the laws enable mass surveillance that infringes on human rights. However, the government maintains broad data access helps combat organized crime and terrorism. Overall, Albania lacks robust checks and balances around government surveillance according to international digital rights groups, despite constitutional privacy protections.

Privacy Protections

Privacy protection in Albania is grounded in several legislative measures, including the Law on Protection of Personal Data (2008), the Law on Electronic Communications (2008), and the National Security Law (2016). These laws are intended to protect the privacy of individuals, but their implementation has been met with criticism and controversy. A notable instance occurred in 2018 when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Law on Electronic Communications violated the right to privacy of two Albanian citizens. The ECHR determined that the law did not offer sufficient safeguards for telecommunications users’ privacy and enabled government access to user data without a compelling social requirement.

The intersection of privacy protection with technology and journalism has been a significant concern in Albania. In 2017, the European Commission criticized the National Security Law, urging the Albanian government to amend it. This law, which gives the Information Service Agency (ISA) expansive powers to surveil citizens, has been met with disapproval from human rights groups and privacy advocates. Critics argue that it fails to provide adequate privacy safeguards. Furthermore, the Albanian government has been criticized for allegedly using its surveillance powers to target political opponents and journalists. Although Albania has laws intended to protect privacy, these protections are often perceived as less robust than those in other European nations, with laws criticized for their vagueness and inadequate safeguards for individual privacy.

Given Albania’s less-than-favorable PPI rating, users should approach the idea of hosting a VPN server in this country with extreme caution, if not avoid it altogether. The existing legal framework and infrastructure are not conducive to guaranteeing user privacy and data protection, making Albania an unattractive option for VPN providers and users alike. It is highly recommended that users explore alternative locations with higher PPI ratings to ensure a more secure and privacy-friendly environment for their VPN servers.

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