Are VPNs legal? You might assume the answer is a simple one—of course they are! But that’s not entirely true.
Different countries have different laws regarding the use of VPNs. The regulations can affect you if you’re a resident of those places, but can also impact you if you’re traveling there for work or pleasure.
Today, we’re going to look at whether using a VPN is legal in five key jurisdictions: The United States, the United Kingdom, China, Ireland, and the rest of Europe.
Where Are VPNs Legal?
First, let’s look at some locations when VPNs are legal, and access to them is unrestricted.
Are VPNs Legal in the United States?
Yes, VPNs are entirely legal in the United States. There are no laws that either forbid their use or restrict which VPNs are available.
Almost all the mainstream commercial VPN providers make their services available to American residents. Thousands of companies also operate their own in-house VPN servers, thus allowing their employees to access business-critical files and services when they’re on-the-go.
The freedom of choice means you can subscribe to a VPN provider from a location that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes groups. For those who don’t know, the three groups are international intelligence- and information-sharing alliances.
Are VPNs Legal in the United Kingdom?
Like the USA, there are no British laws which prevent people in the country from using a VPN.
Given the content of the country’s Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (more commonly referred to as “The Snoopers’ Charter”), that’s excellent news. Some of the Act’s most worrisome provisions include:
- New powers for UK intelligence agencies to carry out the bulk collection of communication data.
- A requirement for ISPs to keep customers’ website logs for one year.
- Permission for the police and other law agencies to view internet connection records.
A VPN is an essential tool if you want to protect yourself from the intrusion.
Are VPNs Legal in Ireland?
Again, the answer is yes, VPNs are legal in Ireland. Like the majority of the western world, the government of Ireland has not taken any steps to restrict the use of VPNs or dictate which VPN providers its residents and citizens can use.
Where Are VPNs Illegal?
What about the places where VPNs are either illegal or where access to them comes with caveats and restrictions?
Are VPNs Legal in the Rest of Europe?
No country in the European Union has a law that prevents VPN use in its territory. There are, however, two European countries that are not EU members where the respective governments have either banned or restricted VPN access. Those countries are Russia and Belarus.
VPNs Are Restricted in Russia
In Russia, VPN access used to be unrestricted; users could choose from any of the usual selection of providers. That changed with the passage of a new law in July 2017.
The law made VPN usage illegal if the technology was used to access sites that the country’s censorship body—Roskomnadzor—had previously blocked. According to the BBC, VPN providers who agreed to the new restrictions were provided with a list of blacklisted sites. VPN providers who didn’t agree were banned from operating within Russia’s borders.
Interestingly, however, the law does not apply to corporate VPNs. Ergo, if you’re traveling to Russia for business and have access to your company’s servers, you will not face any web restrictions.
The law also makes clear that the onus is on VPN providers and search engines to block access to the blacklisted sites. Despite considerable misinformation on the web, Russia does not hold end-users responsible.
VPNs Are Illegal in Belarus
In Belarus, the situation is more clear-cut—VPNs (and Tor) have been outright illegal since 2015. Indeed, accessing foreign websites could land you with a fine of $120 (almost half the average Belarusian monthly salary).
Nonetheless, VPN providers still advertise their services to Belarusian residents. In an editorial blog post, NordVPN questioned whether Belarus even had the necessary technical infrastructure to uphold the law.
Are VPNs Illegal in China?
It’s well-known that China suffers from a heavily censored internet. Unsurprisingly, therefore, VPNs quickly established themselves as a low-cost and effective way to circumvent the blocks.
Sadly, after several years of speculation, the Chinese government forced all telecom companies operating in the country to block access to commercial VPNs in February 2018.
Today, VPNs are only available when leased directly from the government. Typically, they are only available to businesses who have cross-border operations. And although it’s never been officially confirmed, it’s safe to assume that the Chinese government’s rentable VPNs are logging all your actions. Additionally, according to VPNPro, 30% of all commercial VPNs have Chinese ownership. If true, that spells problems for privacy on a global scale.
As is the case with Belarus, most of the mainstream VPN providers continue to advertise their services to people in China. If you’re traveling to the country, however, be aware that using a VPN could land you with a fine of ¥15,000 CNY (approximately $2,000 USD).
Where Else Are VPNs Illegal?
Other countries where VPNs are illegal or restricted include Iran, Turkey, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and North Korea.
Other VPN Legality Issues to Consider
Although VPNs are legal in all North America, South America, and the European Union, you are still subject to those nations’ laws when using the web.
Anything that’s illegal when you’re not using a VPN is still illegal when you are using one. Activities such as illegal file sharing, hacking, stalking, and buying illicit items on the dark web can land you in trouble with the law.
Remember, VPNs are not foolproof. They can cut out unexpectedly, a provider might collect logs even if it claims that it doesn’t, browsers can still log device data and leak IP addresses, and so on.
Finally, you also need to consider the issue of using VPNs to bypass geo-blocking (also known as “regional restrictions”) for services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Using a VPN to access those services is against the providers’ terms and conditions. You could have your account shut down, be permanently banned from the app, or in an extreme case, find yourself wrapped up in a civil lawsuit.
Are VPNs Legal? And Should You Buy One?
Hopefully, you’ve now aware that VPN legality depends on where in the world you’re based and how you plan to use your connection. Because of the risk for potential physical harm, and the number of possibly compromised companies on the market, a VPN may not be the best privacy tool for usage in Belarus, Russia, China, Iran, and other nations that frown on VPN usage.
However, for use in the United States and European Union, here are our recommendations for the best VPNs to use for security and privacy