Is a using a VPN legal? It’s a legitimate question and the answer is not a simple yes or no. In most cases, it is perfectly legal for you to use a virtual private network to access the internet. There are some cases, however, where the activity you engage in or the country where you connect could make using a VPN illegal. Here’s how you can know for sure.
It’s crazy to consider that over the past couple years, a number of countries have begun passing laws banning Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
China has even started fining its citizens who are caught using the anti-censorship software. It makes sense why many people question whether VPNs are legal in China…or any country for that matter.
Add to that the idea that this security software is specifically designed to mask your Internet activity and are developed by companies strategically located beyond the jurisdiction of any major superpower and, well…
…you can see why this is an issue.
The question isn’t about the integrity of the encryption services; the question is this: in what cases is a VPN illegal to use?
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
Let’s jump right in!
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I might be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed.
Are VPNs Legal? [Video Explanation]
To set the stage here, take a couple minutes to watch this video which offers a quick overview on the topic of whether or not it is illegal.
Be sure to subscribe to the All Things Secured YouTube channel!
Now let’s discuss a bit of why this question of legality is even an issue.
The Dark Side of the VPN World
With a quality virtual private network (see our list of the best VPNs on the market today), you are able to do a number of things. This includes:
- Masking your IP address;
- Encrypting the data between your device and the VPN server;
- Accessing geo-restricted content such as Netflix in China.
Of course, having all these abilities at your fingertips comes with the risk of abusing the legal powers afforded you by using it. Not to mention all the data that you’re giving to these VPN companies.
Under the terms and conditions of all major services, you can usually find a list of activities that are prohibited while connected to the network.
Among the numerous prohibited items, what sticks out most is:
- Distributing internet viruses: Hiding yourself while trying to infect other networks with a virus is an obvious no-no. Please don’t do that. It is illegal.
- Gaining illegal access to other computers or networks: Again, a bit obvious, but it needs to be stated.
- IP spoofing: The act of pretending to be another machine for the express purpose of gaining illegal access to a computer or network.
- Copyright, Trademark, and Patent Infringement: In other words, torrenting content you would have to pay for under normal circumstances. Even if your service provider allows peer-to-peer and torrent traffic, it does not mean they allow illegally downloading copyrighted content (although most companies don’t actively monitor this). This is the reason that answering the simple question “Is torrenting legal” can be so tricky.
You should also keep in mind that you are never safe torrenting copyrighted content, even if there are some VPNs that are optimized for torrenting.
Some virtual private networks even log your activity to crack down on illegal practices. This is true even if they say “We have a no-logging policy,” because, you know…
But my VPN says they don’t log data…right?!
While many providers claim they do not log user data, you can never guarantee this is the case.
Every company claims to not log any data, but 95% of the time this isn’t true.
Even if service providers truly do not log user activity, it is possible that the 3rd party companies they rent servers from do, and they can use your data to land you in trouble with the police.
Therefore you always run the risk of bringing the law down upon you when downloading copyrighted material, which is illegal.
Which Countries Ban VPNs?
Apart from criminal activity, a small number of countries have banned this software, further clouding whether a VPN is legal or illegal.
The following map shows which countries explicitly label the software as “illegal”.
Virtual Private Networks have been banned and are no longer legal in:
- United Arab Emirates.
As a number of these countries (such as Russia) have only recently made the software illegal, it is still too early to gauge how strict these bans will be.
Moreover, as many corporations and media networks rely on virtual private networks to do business in some of these countries (a legal usage), it is highly unlikely that they will be entirely eliminated.
Foreigners are usually fine to use VPNs; it’s the local citizens who have to worry.
However, that doesn’t mean that citizens and residents in these countries will not be affected. In China, for example, the Great Firewall uses deep packet inspection (DPI) to detect and block the use of this software.
I’ve used ExpressVPN for years in China despite it being “frowned upon,” and I’m not the only one.
The vast majority of long-term expats in China and all throughout southeast Asia use a virtual private network to access the internet.
The only problem I’ve run into occurred in China’s far western province of Xinjiang. Here, the government went so far as to block cell phone usage for residents caught trying to bypass censorship.
Does this mean you should avoid using a virtual private network in countries where it is blocked?
Generally speaking, campaigns to restrict usage in countries like China are geared towards local citizens and domestic services.
Therefore, foreigners can usually connect to offshore servers and only have to worry about the occasional connection disruption.
For locals, on the other hand, using this software can be considered an illegal anti-government act and has in the past resulted in a fine or, in the worst cases, jail time.
If you want to dig in further, check out these articles:
VPNs Aren’t Illegal BUT…Your Activity Can Be
To sum up, it is not only legal but also highly recommended that you use a VPN to maintain Internet privacy and enhance security.
Only by using your virtual private network for activities that are clearly illegal do you run the risk of getting in trouble with the law. As you’ll see in the infographic linked here, VPNs are an excellent way to maintain online security.
Based on years of personal experience, I use and recommend ExpressVPN (get 3 months free using this link). It’s an excellent option that is reliable even in those countries where connecting can often be difficult.
The only other thing to consider is whether you’re in a country that technically bans their use. If you are a foreigner in that country, you can generally use a VPN without any concerns.
Local citizens, however, should think twice and review how local laws can affect them if caught using a virtual private network.
Ha! Just kidding 😉
What exactly do I mean here?
Well let’s say that you’re using the software to unlock certain geographic perks or find better pricing on a certain good or service. Is this illegal?
The short answer is…
When we use the term “illegal”, generally we’re referring to actions which go against a societal law. Gaining advantages with streaming or getting better pricing on an online game does not break any country law.
What this means is that, while you may never have the police knocking on your door, there is a possibility that your favorite game will block your account if they find out that you’re using a VPN to get better pricing.
It’s not idea, of course, but it’s also not the same as jail time.