VPNs are increasingly popular with individuals who travel a lot, who use the internet a great deal, or who are trying to improve their network protection and online privacy. But this technology remains controversial despite being around for years now. In this article, we examine what a VPN is and answer the question, “Are VPNs illegal?”. In doing so, we will eradicate much of the gray area that has arisen from the use of this technology.
What is a VPN?
A VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, is a piece of software that hides your computer’s IP address at home and transmits data through an encrypted tunnel. The result is that VPN users are far safer from being hacked due to the encryption techniques used, but they are also difficult to locate given that their computer’s address is hidden.
The latter idea can be helpful when trying to unblock certain websites and get around the geographical restrictions that some pages have. For example, Netflix has different libraries of content depending on what country a user is in. If that user employs a VPN connection, however, they can mask their true location and thus access whatever Netflix library they choose.
VPNs – legal or illegal?
For the most part, using a VPN is legal. However, it’s important to note that using a VPN to carry out illegal activity is prohibited. What is illegal activity will depend on the country you are in. For example, looking at porn or accessing gay websites is illegal in some Middle Eastern countries yet legal in many Western countries.
While that may sound extreme to some, it’s imperative to remember that if you do use a VPN simply to get around a geo-restricted site while travelling, you’re still breaking the law. This is most commonly done when accessing video libraries like the aforementioned Netflix. Netflix only has the licenses available in certain countries to stream its content there. When you’re accessing Netflix content in a country that has not been licensed, you’re breaking the law.
So why use a VPN?
Using VPNs for other purposes can prove helpful and prudent in the quest to stay safe online. VPNs are a fantastic resource to tap when trying to up your cybersecurity. By masking your identity and encrypting your data, you’re making yourself that much more difficult to hack. Online criminals will not only find it difficult to access your data, but if they do, they then can’t read it as they won’t have an encryption key.
In what countries are VPNs illegal?
As briefly alluded to above, VPNs can be legal, but using them to commit illegal activity is a criminal act. However, there are some countries where VPN usage is totally illegal and in others, their usage is plagued by confusing bureaucracy. Here is a brief list of a number of countries where VPN usage can get you into hot water – though many people do still use them.
- Belarus – Those using VPN services in Belarus are breaking the law.
- China – China likes to monitor its civilians’ internet usage where VPN usage is banned or must be licensed by the government.
- Iran – Any VPN services in Iran must be licensed with the Government and citizens can be penalised for using a VPN.
- Iraq – VPN services are banned
- Oman – If individuals are found using a VPN when in Oman, they can face a $1000+ fine.
- Russia – Not all VPN providers have been approved in Russia. The ones that have will block particular content and sites.
- Turkey – The authorities have started blocking VPN usage and can investigate users if they have been caught using one.
- Uganda – ISPs in Uganda recently blocked all VPN services, though no law is in place saying they are illegal.
- UAE – Using a VPN here to make a VoIP call is illegal as is using a VPN to access sites whose content is prohibited
- Venezuela – recently VPN technology was halted by Venezuela’s biggest internet provider
Knowing how, where, and why to use a VPN is key to staying on the right side of the law. Knowing where you can use one legally and to access particular content is critical if you don’t want to find yourself in any legal trouble — especially in a foreign country.