Are VPNs Legal? – Are You Breaking the Law?
A VPN can be used to unblock geo-locked content, encrypt your internet traffic, and put a stop to nasty ad trackers. But are VPNs legal? The answer entirely depends on which country you reside in and how you choose to use a VPN.
Read on to learn where VPNs are illegal and how you can avoid breaking the law.
What is a VPN?
The term VPN is short for “Virtual Private Network”. It is essentially a private network that can be extended across a public network but allow users to send and receive data as if they were connected to that private network. The benefit of this private network is significantly increased security, anonymity, network management, and the ability to alter your perceived IP address.
The concept of VPN usage is a hot topic for debates over legality since the powerful tool can be used to hide traffic, access websites that would otherwise be inaccessible due to numerous factors, overcome ISP throttling, and circumnavigate censorship.
Are VPNs legal in the US?
Yes, VPNs are entirely legal in the US. In fact, most jurisdictions around the world have no problems with VPN services. This includes the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Australia, most of Asia, and South America.
This means it is perfectly legal to use a VPN – but that doesn’t mean the service can be used to mask illegal activity. Ultimately, the main reason most people choose to use a VPN is for perfectly legal and legitimate reasons. There is nothing wrong with choosing to protect your data when connected to public Wi-Fi.
Furthermore, it is perfectly legal to use a VPN to unblock geo-locked content – just make sure to pay for a genuine subscription when using a VPN to unblock Amazon Prime Video or other paid streaming services.
Is a VPN illegal overseas?
This is an important consideration because while a VPN may be perfectly legal in your home country, it might not be when you are traveling. Nobody wants to end up in hot water because they tried to stream Netflix from their hotel room in a country that doesn’t allow it.
There are only a small handful of countries that have deemed VPN usage entirely illegal. This is an affront to an individual’s privacy and can severely hinder their freedom of access to information. For example, Russian residents struggle to access any media that is not state-run. Some other jurisdictions have chosen to regulate VPNs and impose stricter controls on their usage.
Here are a few countries that have either outright banned VPNs or heavily regulate them.
Iraq and Belarus
VPN use has been banned since 2015 as a means to make it harder for citizens to organize protests against the Belarusian government. In Iraq, VPNs were banned in an attempt to squash the online presence of ISIS. Rather than control ISPs, the Iraqi authorities arrest VPN users.
VPNs are not illegal in the UAE, but their usage will affect sentencing if convicted of a crime. This is important to note as a foreign visitor. Some practices legal at home are not in Dubai. For example, gambling is illegal and if caught using a VPN to access an online casino, you would receive additional penalties.
The “Great Firewall of China” is famous for preventing access to content, services, and products that are deemed inappropriate. This extends to foreign news outlets and popular social media sites like Facebook and Snapchat. Even some major VPN websites are blocked in China. But since VPNs are vital to international business, they haven’t been banned entirely.
A recent legislative change regarding data collection means any VPN service operating in the country will need to collect and maintain customer information. Since this completely counters the purpose of a VPN, many major service providers have opted to leave India. So, rather than VPNs being illegal in India, their usefulness has been severely diminished.
Again, while not actually illegal, VPN usage is heavily policed and regulated. Many VPNs are blacklisted and using a VPN to access banned websites is illegal. Tourists should take note of this policy as simply trying to check your Facebook or watch BBC news could land you in a cell.
Related: Best VPNs for ChatGPT
Can a VPN break the law?
While using a VPN is completely legal, using a service to commit illegal acts most certainly is. Criminals beware – the US government still pressures VPN service providers to hand over information in certain court cases.
Basically, if it is a crime without a VPN, it still is when the VPN is turned on. There are a few illegal activities that VPN services are often used for:
- Illegal marketplaces – A VPN is a near-essential tool for accessing the dark web safely. Using the dark web isn’t actually illegal but buying or selling illegal goods and services on one of the many illicit marketplaces is. Acquiring the services of a Hitman or buying weapons is no less criminal because it’s been masked using a VPN.
- Piracy – Using a VPN to download music, films, literature, or any other copyrighted material isn’t legal because you’ve covered it up by masking your IP address with a VPN.
- Internet crimes – Bullying, hacking, stalking. These are all relatively new cyber crimes that can be made easier using a VPN. Just because a cybercrime has been committed using a spoofed IP address doesn’t mean it is OK.
Why are VPNs Legal?
If VPNs can be used for nefarious purposes, why are they legal? First and foremost, the vast majority of users purchase a VPN subscription for legitimate reasons.
Secondly, the right to internet privacy and net neutrality should be a human right. There is no reason your data should be sold off without your express consent and you should be able to protect your personal information as much as possible.
Staying safe online is paramount and VPNs are the best way to encrypt your traffic and protect your data. But laws can change and it is always a good idea to stay informed on the latest laws related to privacy and internet security.
Feel free to use any of the best VPNs recommended by TechRobot, as they are all entirely legal in the majority of countries like the United States, Canada, and the UK.