Can police track your VPN activity

A VPN promises privacy and security online – but how far does the protecting go? Does it apply in all cases, even if criminal acts are committed? Can police track VPN activity when you purchase something online? What’s the role of a country where a VPN is registered?

These are fair questions to ask. Let’s discuss it.

Police can’t track live, encrypted VPN traffic, but if they have a court order, they can go to your ISP (internet service provider) and request connection or usage logs. Since your ISP knows you’re using a VPN, they can direct the police to them. Whether your VPN provider gives up that information depends on such factors as the jurisdiction and the VPN’s privacy policy.

What information could a VPN give to the police?

When it comes to handing over the information about its users, it all depends on what data a VPN provider collects.

There are three main categories of data collection:

  • Usage logs. These logs include visited websites.
  • Connection logs. These records include times of connection, data usage, users’ real IP address, and an IP address assigned by a VPN.
  • No logs. Some VPN providers keep no logs of your VPN activity, except information needed for billing and troubleshooting. Surfshark is one of them.

Some VPNs claim they don’t collect any logs, but it may be a facade. That’s why it’s crucial not to overlook privacy policies. You might see things you don’t want to see there, such as intrusive data collection.

Why do some VPNs collect users’ data? More on that in the next section.

VPNs vs. data retention laws

If a country has strict data retention laws, a VPN that’s registered in that country has to keep logs regardless of what they claim on their website.

For example, if your VPN provider is under the US or the EU jurisdiction, they can’t claim to be no-logs. Let me be clear about this, most premium VPNs don’t monitor your browsing activity day-in-day-out, but they can keep connection logs, IP addresses, session information, or used bandwidth.

Surfshark VPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. Because of non-existing data retention laws, we’re under no obligation to store users’ data. That goes for usage and connections logs alike. We advocate for privacy and the open internet; thus, it’s important for us that our users don’t feel watched by their VPN provider.

Can police track online purchases made with a VPN?

There is no way to track live, encrypted VPN traffic. That’s why police or government agencies who need information about websites you visited have to contact your internet service provider (ISP for short), and only then your VPN provider. Whether your VPN provider gives away any information or not depends on several factors, such as the country’s data retention laws or a VPN’s internal privacy policy.

Speaking of purchases, unless they have a reason to believe that you’re doing something illegal, the police don’t care what you buy online.

Using the Tor browser could be suspicious to your ISP and, therefore, to the police. However, you’re not going to get in trouble just because it looks a bit suspicious.

It’s important to point out that if a user is engaging in criminal activities, a VPN will not save them. Police and federal authorities alike have more methods to catch a perpetrator than asking their VPN provider for connection and usage logs.

Here at Surfshark, we do not condone illegal acts despite not keeping logs of our users’ activity. We believe that online privacy is a human right, but we draw the line if your actions harm others.

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Most countries have no problem with VPNs. However, a handful of governments feel the need to control their citizens’ lives in as many aspects as possible. And VPNs sometimes don’t slip through the cracks.

Country Current VPN status
Belarus Blocked
Iraq Blocked
Oman Blocked
Turkmenistan Blocked
North Korea Blocked
China Restricted
Iran Restricted
Russia Restricted
Turkey Restricted
The United Arab Emirates Restricted

VPN tracking takes a different meaning when it comes to countries that restrict VPN usage. In some regions, you won’t be able to download a VPN, let alone connect to it. In these cases, obfuscated servers can be very helpful. In short, they work like an invisibility cloak for a VPN, masking your VPN traffic and making it look like regular internet traffic.

What’s the takeaway on police tracking VPNs

Can police track a VPN? In short, not really. But if they have a court order, they can request usage or connection logs.

Overall, being completely anonymous and untraceable online is virtually impossible. A VPN is a great tool that gives you more privacy by masking your IP address, minimizing commercial advertising, and hacking attempts. However, a VPN will not hide you from legal troubles, and it should not be used as a way to do that.

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