Are VPNs Legal - The Ins and Outs of VPNs and the Law
Legality of VPNs
This depends on where in the world you are.
In most countries around the world, VPNs are perfectly legal in themselves, although you could decide to use them for illegal activities (more on that in a moment). Many people simply assume otherwise because they are often associated with illegal activity, but that’s a misconception.
There are, however, a few major exceptions. VPNs have most notably been declared illegal in Russia and China, for example. They’re also banned in Iran, Iraq, UAE, Belarus, Turkey, and Oman, among others.
As you can see from this list, these are pretty much all countries that exert close control over domestic media, are hostile to independent journalism and/or have a reputation for surveillance. Basically, the major reasons why you’d want to use a VPN in the first place! It’s not exactly surprising, then that these governments are not fans of VPNs – and breaking these laws could land you in hot water.
This is particularly true in the UAE. Funnily enough, the reasons behind the ban in this country are less to do with censorship and more to do with money, as the popularity of WhatsApp calls had started undercutting profits in the telecoms sector. All the same, the repercussions are huge, with fines of up to half a million dollars.
In the US, Canada, the EU, Australia and much of the world, on the other hand, VPNs are perfectly legal. That said, some things that you might choose to do with a VPN in place are absolutely not legal – and that doesn’t change just because it’s easier for you to do them with a VPN, or because you may be more likely to get away with it.
For example, it’s illegal to use your VPN to do the following:
- Torrent (share or download) files where you don’t own the copyright, including movies, games and music.
- Hack into a network to which you don’t have authorized access in order to steal information, commit fraud or cause disruption.
- Buy, sell or download illegal drugs, weapons, banned types of pornography or any other restricted substances on the dark web
- Stalk or harass someone
Note that more and more companies are pursuing legal action against people who get caught torrenting files they don’t own. The fact that VPNs often get used in conjunction with torrenting is one reason why some people are now asking, “are VPN legal?”
When it comes to the other three points on this list, these crimes are taken extremely seriously, all over the world. If you engage in any of them, you can bet your life that a government agency somewhere is working hard to catch you – and you could well go to prison if they do.
What Can You Use VPNs For… Legally?
If something is legal in your country and VPNs are also legal in your country, it will be legal for you to do that thing with a VPN.
One grey area here is accessing geo-restricted content, such as streaming TV shows. Many people ask, is it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix? From a legal standpoint, you shouldn’t really use VPNs to try and view stuff that isn’t licensed in your country.
Streaming sites understandably get very angry about this and may suspend your license if you try. At the same time, the police are hardly likely to come knocking at your door (although we can’t promise they never will).
What Are Your Legal Rights When Using a VPN?
The leading VPN providers all have a “no-logs” policy, which means they don’t track what you’re doing. However, that’s not possible in every country, as governments and authorities can insist on seeing logs if they suspect you of a crime.
That’s why so many VPN companies are based in countries with strong privacy laws or lax jurisdiction in this area, like Panama or the British Virgin Islands.
Top Recommended VPNs
All three of these VPNs can be used for any legal purpose you like, quickly and easily, all over the world. None of the companies keep logs and all have stringent security measures in place, helping you to protect your right to privacy.
ExpressVPN is a long-standing user favorite in the VPN world, not least because of its lightning-fast streaming speeds. These are especially impressive when you’re streaming HD video like TV shows and movies.
This VPN is also powerful enough to unblock pretty much anything you want, allowing you to tap into content from all over the globe – or from 94 countries, to be precise. It’s a very reliable, stable product, ensuring that interruptions and delays are minimal. You can install it on more or less any device you can think of, to browse or stream in total privacy and anonymity.
Plus, there’s a kill switch in case your WiFi connection drops, the option for stealth mode, and DNS leak protection.
Despite its global (and ever-growing) popularity, ExpressVPN hasn’t become a victim of its own success. In fact, it’s managed to scale up without slowing down at all – thanks to a huge network of servers around the world.
Support is great, with 24/7 live chat available, as well as email support and an online contact form. If you’d rather figure it out for yourself, take a look at the vast collections of guides and tutorial videos, which take you through things like setting up applications all the way up to verifying the integrity of installation files. Plus, you can try it out without risk thanks to a 30-day, money-back guarantee.
If you decide you love ExpressVPN during your trial, bear in mind that they’re offering a SPECIAL DEAL to Secure Thoughts readers: 3 months free (49% savings) on their annual subscription plan.
VPN CyberGhost is an up-and-coming name in the industry but is gaining popularity fast thanks to its high speeds, many servers, and all-important, privacy-protecting, no-log policy.
The company began life in Romania and many of its 3000+ servers are European-based, although nearly a fifth are in the US. If you connect to the right one, speeds are excellent – although bear in mind that it can be a mixed bag. Some servers are painfully slow, so be prepared to chop and change if you get a bad one at first.
To CyberGhost’s credit, it comes with a great “Choose My Server” screen that lets you check things like current user load, whether you can torrent, ping time, etc. before you connect, which makes it easier to pick a good one for your purposes.
One of the best things about this VPN is its commitment to user privacy. CyberGhost keeps no logs and has adopted the SHA236 authentication algorithm, as well as other rock-solid encryption measures, to keep you as safe, secure and anonymous as possible.
It’s also nice and easy to set up. You just head to the download page and click. Boom! Because there’s a free version, you don’t have to do anything else until (or if) you decide to upgrade. You can unblock US Netflix and the system works just fine with Mac, Android, Chrome, Linux and Kodi on Amazon Firestick.
Once you’re ready to go, it’s pretty simple to find your way around. User experience isn’t mind-blowing but it is straightforward and conveniently laid out. Users have plenty of control over their connection settings, including managing multiple connections – and it’s easy to navigate to support, which is always a plus.
In fact, when it comes to reliability and support, this VPN scores high. There’s an extensive selection of guides if you want to handle all manner of problems yourself, but you can also get in touch through email or live chat to have a helpful human explain instead. Our secret shoppers found this support to be swift and professional.
Cyberghost’s unique differentiator is its data compression feature, though. If you turn it on before you connect to a server, this reduces the impact that text and images have on your bandwidth consumption, potentially allowing you to use a fifth of the data for certain tasks. If your ISP limits your data usage, this is super handy.
A fresh face on the VPN scene, Surfshark is another excellent contender. With 500 servers in 50 countries, the ability to unblock Netflix US and BBC iPlayer (as well as most major streaming sites), it’s rapidly gaining fans around the world.
Even better, the company offers unlimited simultaneous connections, so you can sign in at the same time from as many devices as you like, with just one account. You can also torrent on all its services. The system automatically routes P2P traffic through servers in the Netherlands or Canada.
Surfshark doesn’t always hit the dizzying speeds of ExpressVPN, but it certainly isn’t bad. With any luck they’ll manage to keep improving – and to keep up with the growing pressure on their servers as their user base continues to grow.
However, your privacy is guaranteed thanks to Surfshark’s no-logs policy – and they take security issues very seriously indeed. The intuitive dashboard makes it a breeze to find your way around, instructions are clear and easy to follow, and installation and setup are both nice and straightforward even, if you have no technical experience.
One thing that makes Surfshark stand out is its split tunneling option for Android and Windows apps. You can use this to exclude particular apps or websites from your VPN without switching it off, meaning that you can stay anonymous for some purposes but ensure that other apps (for example, ones that rely on geolocation) don’t get confused.
Last but by no means least, if you need more convincing, you can make use of Surfshark’s 30-day money-back guarantee – and there’s round-the-clock support on offer if you need any help figuring it out.
What Are VPNs?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. They use encryption and masking to route your connection through a different server, which could be anywhere in the world. As a result, you’re completely anonymous and everything you do online stays private.
The most commons uses for VPNs are:
Making Your Workplace More Secure
This is, in fact, why VPNs were invented in the first place! Government departments, corporations, and other organizations that work with sensitive data all use VPNs to strengthen their security, protect their secrets and prevent others from prying into their intellectual property.
Conducting Research Without Fear
Journalists and researchers often depend on VPNs to ensure that no one is watching them while they investigate a story or communicate with sources. If you live in a country with strict censorship laws, this may be the only way of accessing certain material – or accessing it without worrying you could be harassed by people who don’t want you to see it.
Protecting Your Anonymity
You don’t have to fear for your life or liberty to believe that privacy is a right. Perhaps you just don’t like the idea of your government, school, workplace or ISP provider spying on you. Perhaps you don’t want search engines and marketers tracking your search history and sending you targeted ads. A VPN obscures your IP address and means you can just browse anonymously, without monitoring or interference.
Staying Safe on Public WiFi
Using WiFi in public places opens you up to all kinds of potential problems. It’s easy for others on the same network to see what you’re doing, hack into your computer or contaminate your connection with malware. If you need to make any payments, check bank details or do anything else that involves entering passwords or accessing sensitive data, you really ought to consider using a VPN. This means all your data is channeled through a secure connection, protecting you in public spaces.
Keeping Your Calls to Yourself
It’s not just shared WiFi connections that make it easy for others to eavesdrop on you. It’s also alarmingly easy to do this over VOIP services! That includes dedicated services like Skype and WhatsApp as well as built-in ones like Facebook Messenger. If you have any concerns at all about people listening in, make sure you have a VPN in place.
Testing Sites in Different Locations
Want to check that your social feed or website is displaying properly in a particular country? That automatic language translations are kicking in correctly? That you’re showing up in local search engines? That your site isn’t filtered or blocked for any reason, thanks to aggressive censorship rules? By using a VPN to access a server in that country, you can view your online presence from any perspective you like.
Here’s where the legally dubious bit comes in. One of the best features of a VPN is that you can decide which country you want to connect through, but that also means you can access online content as if you were in-country. Many sites like Netflix, iPlayer, HULU and even YouTube have different licensing arrangements with different regions.
Bear in mind though that by bypassing these, you could technically be breaking the law. We’ll explore this more in a moment.
The important thing to remember is that the question isn’t “are VPN legal?” but rather “Is VPN legal in this country?” … and, if so, what are you planning to do with it? If you’re not breaking any laws, you generally won’t be breaking them by doing the same things anonymously… but if you are, it’s illegal whether you’re shielded or not.