We do quite a lot every day to protect our privacy: locking our home and car doors, putting passwords on our computers, phones, and other devices. These little rituals are a no-brainer.
Then why does protecting our online privacy with a VPN raise so many questions? Why is it illegal in some parts of the world? Can you get in trouble for using it? In this article, I’m going to explore VPN legality in more detail.
In short: are VPNs legal?
Yes, VPNs are legal in the US, the UK, and pretty much everywhere else in the world, with several exceptions. However, committing illegal acts with a VPN is still prohibited. You shouldn’t download copyrighted material, engage in unethical hacking and other cybercrimes.
VPN legality around the world: censorship and restrictions
While most of the world enjoys easy access to VPNs, a handful of countries face a tougher challenge.
I’ve provided a table with said countries and their current VPN status below. It’s quite clear that a similar political regime based on control and lack of personal freedom connects these regions.
Belarus started blocking Tor and VPNs back in 2015, and the recent upheaval over fraudulent elections keeps the regime motivated to maintain the block.
Initially, Iraq banned or blocked VPN use to fight ISIS, but the restrictions haven’t eased yet, especially with internal turmoil in the country.
While North Korea has its own intranet and uses regular internet to evade financial sanctions, one of the most totalitarian countries is unsurprisingly hostile to VPNs.
Oman bans a swathe of internet raging from subjects as criticism of Islam to pornography. Tor and VPN usage is also banned to prevent access to such content.
One of the most authoritarian countries in the world, Turkmenistan, has taken it up a notch by making internet users swear on the Quran that they won’t be using a VPN in order to stop locals from accessing information the state finds undesirable.
China allows VPNs to operate as long as they cooperate with the state, which defeats the purpose of using the VPN to bypass the Great Firewall and hide from the state.
Iran has had a rocky history when it comes to internet freedom. To control access to foreign websites and services, a proposed piece of legislation to ban VPNs (among other things) has been under deliberations for three years now.
In 2017, Russia passed a law demanding that VPNs and proxies ban access to sites the Russian government banned, ostensibly to stop piracy. The services that don’t comply end up banned in Russia.
Technically, VPNs are legal; practically, they’re restricted to “combat terrorism.”
Freedom House scores UAE 29/100 on internet freedom, part of which is the country’s heavily regulated and fined laws on VPN use.
Uganda started blocking VPN providers because the citizens use the service to bypass OTT tax that’s commonly called the “social media tax.”
Restricting freedom of speech is nothing new for some countries. They demonstrate that by banning popular social media and news outlets (usually associated with Western media). Since VPN services protect the fundamental human right to privacy, authoritarian regimes waste no time jumping on that as well.
Is it legal to use a VPN in the USA?
Currently, there are no laws restricting VPN usage in the US. And, as you can tell from the table above, none of the Western countries are on that – already short – list.
Obviously, a VPN isn’t a gateway to illegal activities just because it protects one’s privacy. No VPN providers commend criminal acts committed while connected to a VPN. Besides that, one tool isn’t going to protect criminals from legal trouble anyway since law enforcement has many means to track and catch perpetrators.
Can you get in trouble for using a VPN?
Unless you’re in a country where VPN services are banned, you can use a VPN without issues.
However, you shouldn’t expect a VPN to protect you from legal trouble if you engage in illegal acts while using it. Downloading copyrighted material falls into this category.
Simply put, as long as you stay within the legal framework of your country, you won’t get in any trouble for using a VPN.
Is it illegal to use a VPN for Netflix?
Using a VPN with Netflix is legal. There are no fines or punishments for it. However, the most popular streaming service doesn’t exactly encourage it.
Netflix blacklists a lot of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses that VPN services use. That’s why the Netflix proxy error page is so common. A way to avoid that is not to use free VPNs – apart from being laggy, overridden with ads, and unsecured, a lot of the IP addresses that free VPNs use are already on Netflix’s blacklist.
Disclaimer: Surfshark does not encourage using a VPN in ways that would potentially violate Terms of Service of streaming service providers.
Why do people question privacy protection tools?
There are tons of VPN myths on the internet. Why? I think a lot of it has to do with the intricacies of technology. It’s a vast, complex field that doesn’t come to us as naturally as locking our front door. We understand why we put the key in the keyhole when going out, but why do we need VPNs? We can’t touch a VPN, the same way that we can’t touch the internet or the threats that come with it.
While probably not being the single reason for questioning VPNs, the untouchable nature of internet security seems like a likely cause.
Another reason might be related to VPN use cases. While the purpose of a VPN is to secure your internet traffic, there are many other ways that people utilize this tool, from bypassing censorship to accessing blocked websites.
Let’s explore all those VPN use cases in the next section.
Why use a VPN?
VPNs weren’t created for individual users. At first, it was a digital security tool for big companies, meant to secure their assets and data.
However, these days, a VPN is just as useful for an everyday internet user. In times of digital profiling, targeted advertising, government tracking, and ever-increasing hacking attempts, protecting one’s privacy is a critical decision.
Why do we use VPNs?
- To protect our online identity.
- To stay safe on public Wi-Fi.
- To block trackers and malware.
- To bypass censorship.
- To open up the world of entertainment.
- To save money online.
Disclaimer: If you need legal advice regarding VPN usage or specific country laws, please consult legal professionals since we are not experts in the field and cannot provide you with legal assistance.
Are VPNs legal? Yes, almost everywhere
While there are countries that restrict or even block VPNs, they are perfectly legal in most of the world. VPNs play an essential role in ensuring digital security and privacy, as well as protecting users from wrongdoers that overstep their own legality. So if it’s legal to use a VPN in your country, but you’re not doing that already, why not give Surfshark a spin?