Are VPNs Legal

By Jayden Andrews. October 16, 2019

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a remarkable piece of technology that can protect your privacy against hackers, government surveillance, and ISP monitoring. But there is always confusion when it comes to its legality. With the ever-growing popularity of VPNs, you have probably asked yourself: are VPNs legal? The good news is that, for the most part, VPNs are legal to use. In fact, VPNs have been used for years to provide a secure network for corporates and other reputable institutions. But it is worth mentioning that VPNs can be used for unrecommended activities, thus giving VPNs a poor reputation. And that is why some countries ban or restrict the use of VPNs.

The UK, Australia, the US, Germany, France, and New Zealand are a few examples of the many countries that allow VPNs. But even then, your use of a VPN is still subjected to their laws and restrictions. Sometimes, malicious people may use VPNs to disguise the fact that they are carrying out illegal activities. In this guide, we will discuss how VPNs are safe to use and what you need to observe, while using VPNs. We will also explain what the situation is like in the countries where VPNs are restricted or illegal.

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Why Are There Legal Issues Around VPNs?

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The question of legality concerning VPN usage arises because VPNs use encryption technology to connect to the internet, making it anonymous and untraceable. Unfortunately, it is the same elements of privacy and anonymity that make VPNs attractive to malicious internet users, who are out to break the law. That is why using a VPN for illegal purposes remain illegal everywhere. Please note that what may be considered legal in one country may be illegal in another, so take time to familiarize yourself with local laws. Besides this, the power of the internet has the potential to bring about social impact, and this can create a problem for some governments. Authoritarian states may restrict their citizens from accessing content from other parts of the world. Generally, VPNs are a thorn on the side of the authorities that rely heavily on online censorship and surveillance. Therefore, these countries try to monitor the use of VPNs. Thankfully, it is only a handful of governments that regulate VPNs or ban them.

Where Is It Illegal to Use VPNs?

Below, we will look at the countries that have partially or fully ban the use of a VPN

01

Countries Where VPNs Are Restricted

China

China is among the few countries that are well known for its harsh stance against internet freedom. Chinese citizens are only allowed to use government-approved VPNs. So, VPN providers are required to first obtain approval from the government before they can operate, which often entails agreeing to the terms. Individuals who connect to the internet via unregulated channels risk being fined up to 15,000 Yuan (about USD2200). Surprisingly, China still has the highest number of VPN users in the world despite all the restrictions. Most of them only want to conduct their business freely and maybe watch content from Netflix and YouTube.

Russia

Russia is a paradoxical country. It has very freedom-oriented citizens, yet its government is very restrictive. Like China, Russia allows government-approved VPNs to operate in the country. The main reason behind the restriction is to regulate access to unlawful content. The use of an unapproved VPN service in Russia attracts a fine of 300,000 RUB (about $5,100) for end-users and 700,000 RUB (about $12,000) for VPN service providers.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE has an archaic political system that is further complicated by the Islamic jurisprudence, giving rise to some strange rules, especially when it comes to modern technologies. Since 2012, individual VPN users are only allowed to use government-approved VPNs. The law doesn’t apply to corporate entities, though. One of the reasons for the regulation is that more people started using free online communication services in favor of big telecom companies of the UAE. Anyone who uses a VPN to commit a crime in UAE shall be punished by imprisonment or a fine not exceeding $544,000. Using a VPN to access platforms like Skype may also attract penalties.

Iran

Iran started blocking VPNs back in 2013. The country censors some of the most popular websites to regulate Western influence. As part of government surveillance, users are required to use government-approved VPNs. Using non-government sanctioned VPNs can lead to 3 months to 1 year of incarceration. But it appears that the government is less concerned about casual social media users. The authorities usually use the law to control opposing voices.

Turkey

Until 2016, VPN use in Turkey was legal. The Turkish government introduced VPN restrictions to fight terrorism. But some have claimed that censorship usually targets government critics. VPN blocking has proven unsuccessful, as users can still connect through servers in the neighboring countries.

Oman

As an absolute monarchy, democracy and online freedom are not held in high regard. Like in the UAE, VPN users in Oman are restricted to government-sanctioned VPNs. The primary use of VPN in Oman is to bypass ISP censorship and access VoIP services. Unfortunately, the government supervises most ISPs in the country. Therefore, using a regular IP address to access the internet will most likely get you into trouble. So, most users try to use servers in the UAE. Attempting to circumvent the law may lead to a fine of 500 Omani Rial ($1,300) for individuals and 1000 Omani Rial ($2,600) for VPN providers without proper authorization.

02

Countries Where VPNs Are Restricted

Iraq

The Iraqi government banned VPNs in 2014 as a way to cut off terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, from manipulating the social media. Ironically, it hasn’t stopped government-owned institutions and government officials from breaking the law.

Turkmenistan

The use of VPNs in Turkmenistan is completely banned. There is only one ISP in the country, and it is government-controlled, which is a subject to censorship. Attempting to circumvent the law will attract strict penalties.

North Korea

VPNs are totally banned in North Korea since the government doesn’t want to allow any foreign media. The country has a few internet access points, so it is easy for the authorities to monitor what you are doing on the internet. The consequences of circumventing the law are still unknown because the country is so secretive.

Belarus

From 2015 onwards, the Belarusian government issued a blanket ban on all VPNs. On top of this, the government has blocked most foreign websites, as it feels that is the best way to go.

VPN and Illegal Activities

While using a VPN is legal in most parts of the globe, there are online activities that remain illegal, irrespective of whether you are using a VPN or not. Most VPN providers usually state in their Terms of Use the list of activities that you should avoid. Actually, you are likely to find a clause that states that users are responsible for their criminal activities. In most cases, the following activities are considered illegal:

  • Spamming
  • Cyberstalking
  • Hacking
  • Fraud, theft, and scams
  • Torrenting Copyrighted files or illegal file-sharing
  • Buying or selling on the dark web
  • Child pornography

Other Limitations of Using VPNs

Sometimes, the use of a VPN isn’t illegal, but you may be limited from using it by the Terms of Use of the platform you want to access. Streaming services like Netflix may only allow you to access content from the country in which you opened your account. One of the most popular uses of a VPN is to access overseas versions of streaming services like Netflix. Since each region has different movies and shows, it is usually a tempting proposition. While you may not break any law for doing so, you will go against their terms and conditions. For instance, if you signed up for Netflix in Singapore and you are trying to access content for US account holders, you will have breached their Terms of Use. What may make the matter worse is that your online activities are bound by the laws of the jurisdiction where the server is situated. So, keep in mind that it is not only the laws of the country you are trying to access that matters, but also the location of the server.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what VPN encryption is and are more prepared to protect your internet privacy. This is especially important if you are a remote worker and are using time tracking software to get things done while globe-trotting. The thing is, digital nomads often face bans on sites they need to access while exploring Internet-censored countries, and this is where VPNs come in extremely handy. By using a VPN and time tracking app, you can stay as productive as possible, no matter where you go.
Even without delving so much into the technicalities, it should also be clear to you that the industry-standard encryption used by premium VPNs is as safe as it gets. But note that when it comes to VPN configuration, encryption is only one part of the equation. The other half is to ensure no traffic leaks outside of the VPN framework. Additionally, VPN protocols are only a small part of what you should consider when selecting a VPN service.

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