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Are VPNs Legal? VPNs Explained from the Legal Perspective

Updated on: August 15, 2021

Are VPNs legal?

Whether you are trying to access blocked content in a country that is geo-restricted; increase your Internet privacy; or keep yourself protected while file-sharing, VPN technology can be tremendously useful to people in countries all around the world.

Despite their indisputable benefits, are VPNs legal?

Thankfully (for the more than 100 million VPN users in the United States alone), VPNs are perfectly legal in many countries around the world.

But are VPNs legal everywhere? Unfortunately, no.

While you can use VPNs freely in countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, there is still a sizable list of countries that have strict Internet censorship laws forbidding the use of a VPN.

Actually, even in the United States, the legality of VPNs can come into question if you are using a VPN to commit illegal activity.

Keep reading this article to find out when VPN usage is considered kosher, and which situations or illegal activity could render VPN use questionable, or illegal.

Are VPNs Legal in the US

The good news is that there are no laws against using a VPN in the US. So, if you are in the US, you don’t have to worry that you will be punished for using a VPN provider to keep your Internet private, unblock content or sites you want to access, or conceal yourself from your ISP or others. On top of this, using a VPN is actually a very smart way to avoid government and third-party oversight and tracking in the US and in any country around the world.

USA map

Now, if you look back at the questions I answered, the question was: “Are VPNs legal in the US?” — not “Are VPNs against the terms and conditions of certain service providers in the US?” If that were what I had asked, the answer would have been: yes.

While it is true that VPN use is against the terms of service of certain content providers on the Internet — like Hulu or Netflix — the chance of any content provider turning its users over to the authorities for breaking their rules is slim to none.

Whether they enforce their rules or not, here is what Hulu says about its usage limitations:

For clarity, you may not use any technology or technique that obscures or disguises your location when you are accessing the Services.

If you are one of those people who likes to follow the rules and respect the policies of content providers that have geo-restricted content — like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video — check the conditions before using a VPN to access blocked content.

If you are ok connecting to a VPN server to access blocked content (knowing there are no actual laws prohibiting activities like this), enjoy!

*Keep in mind that the legality of VPNs changes if you use your VPN to commit any illegal activities. The rule of thumb is that activities that are illegal without a VPN are still illegal with a VPN provider.

Legitimate Uses of a VPN

While some countries ban using a VPN, there are plenty of countries that allow VPN usage; and there are plenty of legitimate reasons to use virtual private networks. Here are some of the most popular reasons to use a VPN in any country:

Public Wi-Fi or an unsecured network: If one of the things you are concerned about is your privacy (and security) online, you should be very wary of using any unsecured or public Wi-Fi network without a VPN. When you use a public Wi-Fi network, you are often making yourself and your information vulnerable to hackers, malware, and other scams. If you use a VPN in this scenario, you can ensure that your traffic and information are encrypted and your IP address masked, keeping you safe from things that could pose a risk to your online.

Securing government or professional settings: It is important to use a VPN in settings in which sensitive information must remain protected for either security, monetary, or professional gain. This ensures that information that could compromise the success of an institution remains private and out of the hands of competitors or adversaries.

Bypass regional restrictions from any country: If you are trying to access geo-restricted content, like Hulu, from the country in which you are currently located, you can use a VPN to connect to a server in a permitted country (in this case, the US) to gain access. While the legality of this is not an issue in most places, circumventing these restrictions is not technically allowed by many services, including Hulu or Netflix. This means that you may find yourself blocked (although this is unlikely) if you are using a VPN to access content outside your home country.

Avoid breaches in privacy: If you are using certain services, like voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), it is important to realize that your calls can easily be traced. A VPN can help protect you from your calls being screened or monitored.

Anonymity and online privacy: One of the most important reasons to use a virtual private network is for online privacy and anonymity. These safeguards are especially important when a lack of privacy and anonymity could actually put someone’s life and safety in danger, as may be the case in a very heavily restrictive country. With a layer of VPN protection, people cannot be targeted as easily for their opinions or for exercising their right to free speech.

Illegitimate Uses of a VPN

While in most countries you will find that using a VPN is perfectly legal, VPN usage can become illegal if you are using VPNs for illegal activity, such as:

☑️ Hacking onto private networks: Breaking into networks or devices that you don’t have permission to access is illegal.
☑️ Sharing or downloading illegal or copyrighted files: If you are torrenting illegal or copyrighted files, you could be punished if you are caught.
☑️ Online Stalking: If you are using a VPN to stalk someone online, this is illegal, and you can be prosecuted.
☑️ Committing a crime: If you are using the dark web to buy illegal goods or services — like pornography, or weapons — you can be punished if caught.

Countries Where VPNs Are Partially or Fully Banned

While using virtual private networks is allowed in the USA and many other countries, certain countries, like the following, ban VPNs in some form:

☑️ Russia: According to Russian law, VPNs are banned in this country.
☑️ China: Certain VPNs are permitted for public use in China only after approval from the Chinese government. Other VPNs, while not illegal, are strictly blocked from use in China. It should be noted that the approved VPNs work under the auspices of the government and are not known for their safety and anonymity.
☑️ Oman: Oman is a heavily restricted country that has strict bans on the Internet and media — including VPNs.
☑️ Turkey: While VPNs are legal in Turkey, many sites and VPN services have been blocked because of government censorship. If you want to use a VPN in the country, make sure it is one of the best VPNs for Turkey.
☑️ North Korea: North Korea has deemed VPNs illegal. On top of this, the only people in North Korea who are able to access the world wide web are high-ranking officials. Ordinary citizens are expected to use the special North Korean intranet.
☑️ Iraq: Using a VPN in Iraq was banned in an effort to help combat and track ISIS. Because of this, ordinary Iraqis can no longer use VPNs.
☑️ Iran: Similar to China, Iran’s government only allows VPNs if they are approved by the Iranian government. As you may have guessed, this is not the best solution to privacy and anonymity for Iranian citizens.
☑️ Belarus: Not only are VPNs banned in Belarus, but Tor is banned as well, and Internet service providers have to update their list of banned sites on a daily basis.
☑️ UAE: VPNs are legal in the UAE, but there continue to be very strict anti-VPN tactics, including steep fines that have been implemented by ISPs.

The top VPN providers on the market today all offer strict, verified no-logs policies, so users can be sure that anytime they are using a VPN, their private traffic and identity are not tracked or stored, and are hidden under a layer of encryption.

This no-logs policy is great, in theory, but VPN providers also have to abide by the law of the land in which their service is based. If a VPN service is based in a country with strong government oversight, a VPN may need to turn its logs over to authorities if requested. Because of this potential issue with customer privacy, many VPN providers, like our top 3 picks — ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark — are located in countries that have no data retention laws.

If you want to be sure that you will not find yourself in trouble in a foreign country while using a VPN, make sure to check the latest regulations to familiarize yourself with the legal and cultural expectations and policies before you travel.

Can I Get into Trouble for Using a VPN

If you are using a VPN service to commit a crime — like stalking, downloading copyrighted material, or hacking — you can definitely find yourself in trouble. If an activity is illegal without a VPN, it is illegal with a VPN as well. This is a good rule of thumb.

VPNs are perfectly legal to use if you are using them for legal purposes in countries that permit the use of a VPN, like the United States, Canada, Australia, or the UK.

One thing you can do to try to prevent yourself from getting into trouble is to check out the privacy and security features of each VPN provider before subscribing and trusting them with your private information. Even if a VPN claims to have a no-logging policy, some may have fine print that allows them to retain certain information about users, which may be subject to law enforcement requests.

FAQs

Are VPNs really private?
If Internet privacy is your reason for using a VPN, you can rest easy knowing, although there are some VPN lemons out there, there are many reputable VPNs that really deliver on their promises to keep user information and identity private. A reliable, reputable VPN encrypts your online activity and conceals your IP address, so your Internet Service Provider, law enforcement authorities, and hackers cannot get their hands on your Internet traffic, location, or identity.

Again — Always keep in mind that there are plenty of un-vetted VPNs on the market that may not be effective in maintaining user privacy!

Are free VPNs safe?
Free VPNs may seem appealing, but they are much more likely to compromise user safety and security. First, because reliable paid VPNs charge a subscription fee, they have the monetary resources (and, in turn, the manpower they can pay) to deliver the most effective, professional services to users. Since free VPNs need resources to function on even the most basic level, they have been known to sell user data and IP addresses to third parties and Internet Service Providers. Essentially, with a free VPN, you are the product being sold.
SectionIs it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix?
While it is legal to use a VPN for Netflix, it is against the Netflix terms of service, so users can technically be banned from using this service provider if they are caught using a VPN service provider to unblock geo-restricted content. While VPN users can technically find themselves blocked from Netflix for this reason, this has historically not been known to actually happen.

Conclusion

While VPNs sometimes get a bad reputation, there are many uses for VPNs that are completely legal and completely useful. Many people these days use VPNs to help them access their favorite streaming content from a blocked region. A lot of people have smartened up and realized that the smartest way to browse the web from an unsecured network is by encrypting their traffic with a VPN. Students and employees have even realized that using a VPN at school or at the office can give them access to websites that have been blocked by network administrators. Whether you are using your VPN for entertainment, security, convenience, or anonymity, I think we can all agree that VPNs are becoming more and more commonplace in today’s world.

So, we have established just how useful VPNs are, but what about the original question?

As you can see, the answer concerning VPN legality is not black and white. Whether or not a VPN is legal depends on the country you are in and the activity for which you are using it.

Whether or not a VPN is allowed is an even greyer area. In order to know if you are going against any terms of use for various streaming sites or regional websites you are trying to access, you have to read each site’s regulations and then weigh out whether or not you are all right breaking the rules for the greater good, or forgoing your VPN in order to follow the rules to a T.

Whatever you decide, remember that whether or not a VPN is allowed is not the only decision you need to make. When choosing a VPN, it is vital that you check the reliability of its privacy and security features to ensure that you are safe when browsing the web in the US, but also in the more heavily monitored countries.

ExpressVPN is our top VPN choice for its large server span, military-grade encryption, verified no-logs policy, and IP and DNS leak protection.

I hope you enjoyed this article!

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