Bulgaria is a country where a great diversity of cultural influences come together. While it preserves its rich heritage, Bulgaria is also opening to new technologies and it is estimated that over 50% of people have access to internet. In spite of some ongoing issues, the country seems to be making steady progress towards a transparent and consolidated democracy. However, in terms of freedom of press and internet, there are still some challenges. The media is subject to political and economical pressure and the information published by many news outlets is dictated by the interests of those who run them. Although internet access is not restricted, “soft” censorship is often applied.
In 2012, restrictions to online gambling websites were implemented and although there were proposals to ban gambling altogether, currently only those sites that hold a license to operate in the country have not been blacklisted. The laws that allow the government to periodically block websites periodically are not limited to gambling. In 2015, the websites of the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the President’s Office and other crucial government sites were blocked. The reasons for the disruption were not revealed and the government did not advise on the issue.
Website blocking is also applied to sites that promote violence and hate-speech, but the government may block other sites based on internal policies. Freedom of expression is protected by the constitution, but the press and the government are still under transformation and there are some instances of self-applied or external censorship. Although Bulgarian media is generally unbiased, there is no legislation to protect journalists, which makes them more vulnerable to political pressure.
In terms of online privacy, the country actually has a better record than many of its European counterparts. There are no programs in place designed to store calls, emails or online browsing activities. However, that doesn’t mean that users in Bulgaria are not exposed to online surveillance. In 2013, ex-interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov was involved in an scandal after it was revealed that his subordinates had carried out illegal wiretaps on political rivals and businessmen. Although he was initially charged for failing to exercise effective control over his staff, enabling the unauthorized surveillance, Tsvetanov was eventually absolved. Still, the incident highlighted that there is a risk for privacy, even though the government doesn’t have an official program to spy on its citizens.
Apart from censorship and privacy concerns, internet users in Bulgaria should keep in mind that there are geo-location restrictions that won’t allow them to access certain services from that country. Netflix was launched in Bulgaria recently, but the content available is still quite limited. Other streaming options such as Hulu and Amazon Instant Video can’t be accessed from Bulgaria at the moment. Although the country cracked down on BitTorrent services in the past (2010), it has taken a more lax approach lately. That doesn’t mean that users in Bulgaria should not take measures to protect their P2P traffic.
VPNs for Bulgaria
There have been significant advances in multiple aspects in Bulgaria, but like in other countries, there are still threats to online freedom and privacy. Internet users who want to be able to enjoy internet securely and without restrictions, should consider a VPN. Here are the best options for Bulgaria.
While its headquarter servers and emails are hosted in Switzerland, VPNArea is actually based Bulgaria. It relies in the country’s lax approach to data retention to offer users a no logs policy that enhances privacy. VPNArea has servers in 60 countries and its network is designed to offer fantastic speeds, making it an ideal option for unblocking streaming services. They have advanced security features like IPv6 leaks and DNS leaks protection and their yearly plan offers great value for money.
ExpressVPN is a leading solution for customers across the world thanks to its excellent software and fast servers. With ExpressVPN you can unblock content that is not available in Bulgaria and at the same time, you will enjoy a high level of encryption to protect your online traffic from eavesdroppers. The service is easy to use and gives you access to servers in 87 countries. No logs are kept of your online activities.
Buffered is a provider based in Hungary and it offers a good selection of servers for users in Europe and across the world. At the moment, they have presence in over 33 countries and their network continues growing to offer efficient results for all customers. With Buffered, you will be able to stream and download content with good speed and its advanced technology will enable you to bypass blocks effectively. They don’t keep logs of your online activity.
Those who are mainly concerned about privacy should consider NordVPN, a Panama-based provider that offers high grade encryption and a solid zero logs policy. Data is secured with AES 256-bit encryption, with RSA handshakes and SHA-2 authentication. To reinforce the security of your traffic, you can opt for features like double encryption, Tor over VPN. There is a free trial that lets you check the service for three days before committing to a subscription. NordVPN has servers in over 50 countries, including multiple locations in Europe.
Private Internet Access
PIA is a top choice that provides effective protection for your online privacy for a very convenient price. Their yearly plan costs less than $40 and it gives you access to servers in 24 countries, including Romania and Turkey, which are good options for users in Bulgaria who want to change their IP without experiencing major speed loss. You can also connect to servers in the US, Canada and the UK to get access to popular streaming services. PIA doesn’t log your online activity.