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Are VPNs Legal? Where Are They Illegal? A Full Guide for 2021

Are VPNs legal? The short answer is yes. In fact, VPNs were originally used to provide a secure network for big businesses and organizations. But VPNs can also be used for illegal or unrecommended activities, and they're giving VPNs a bad reputation. Some countries even ban them for this reason. We dive deeper into this question and take a look at where VPNs are permitted.

Before someone decides which VPN provider to choose, the first question that comes to mind is whether or not VPNs are legal. It is a very common question that people ask in online forums, and – given the implications of breaking a law – it is a good idea to understand it completely.

The answer to the question, however, differs from country to country. That’s because some countries, like Russia and China, have declared VPNs illegal. Yet, other countries still allow the use of them.

Before we dive into the legality of VPNs, it’s important to note that while VPNs might be legal, doing an illegal activity with them is not permissible. If you’re doing something illegal over a VPN, then you are bound to be prosecuted under the laws of your country. A VPN can help conceal your identity but selling drugs, copyright material, spreading viruses etc., is still illegal and can obviously land you in trouble.

Legitimate Uses for VPNs

Because some, unfortunately, do use VPNs for illegal matters, many people are under the impression that VPNs are not allowed. However, this is far from the truth. There are so many legitimate uses of a VPN that it simply overweighs the negatives. Below are some of the most common and popular uses of a VPN:

  1. Government organizations and corporations use VPNs to secure their workplace. It is very important for them to add an additional layer of security to protect their sensitive data which otherwise would render them unprofitable or result in serious loss of intellectual property. In more secure environments – such as investment banks – employees are not allowed to directly access their workstations from home but instead use a VPN complimented with RSA technology to make sure their data remains secure.
  2. People who are concerned with their privacy use VPNs to remain anonymous and save themselves from the prying eyes of the government and other organizations. Some authors and reporters write about bold and sensitive topics. Using a VPN protects them from retaliation and hence comes a personal security. Some people do not want search engines to track their search history and serve them targeted ads. Using a VPN ensures that your IP address remains secure and search engines cannot identify the real person behind the VPN.
  3. Using public WiFi is considered dangerous in terms of the security of your personal data. Public WiFi should generally be used to only surf the internet and never for doing secured transactions. It’s incredibly easy to eavesdrop, hack, or contaminate your connection with malware. Using a VPN to tunnel all your data over a secured network will protect you when using an unsecured wifi setup.
  4. If you use VOIP services, it is important for you to know it has become fairly easy to eavesdrop on such kind of communication. You should use a VPN if you are concerned about the communication being monitored by someone.
  5. You can use a VPN to bypass geo-restrictions. For example, you can use Netflix or HULU outside the US or access any other service which is meant for a particular country. However, please keep in mind that this typically falls under a grey area. While it is not common for these service providers to sue the common person, they are well within their rights to ban your account and prevent you from accessing their content in the future.

Is It Safe to Use a VPN in Restrictive Areas?

In terms of security, while using a VPN, most VPN providers protect their users with a strict no logs policy. This means that your information is not tracked, nor is your online activity monitored. This is so governments cannot obtain your information, even if they declare the VPN provider must report it.

However, most providers have to comply with the authorities of the country in which they have registered their business. So they may hand over the logs to law enforcement agencies if required. To counter that, some VPN services operate in countries where such compliance rules are either missing or are very weak. This way they can get away with forcefully complying with the regulatory authorities as there is no law under which they are obliged to do so.

World map

As we mentioned above, the legality of a VPN differs from country to country. While the USA, Canada, and the UK allow for VPNs, other countries do not. Below, we take a look at the countries where the use of a VPN is partially or fully banned:

  1. China: It’s not illegal to use a VPN in China, but the government has blocked most VPN sites so you can’t download apps. VPN providers can still operate if they obtain a license from the government, but the terms and conditions which they have to agree to are a threat to your security.
  2. Iraq: In order to track and stop ISIS, Iraq banned the use of VPNs completely. While the intention may be good, it costs citizens their anonymity and privacy.
  3. UAE: It’s legal to use a VPN in the UAE, but it can cost you dearly as the fines are very heavy (up to £412,240). The main motivation behind the ban is VOIP services which undercut the profit of telecommunication companies. So, to support those industries, the government has taken this kind of step.
  4. Turkey: It’s legal to use a VPN in Turkey, but, In order to curb the use of social media, the Turkish government blocked various websites including those who provide VPN services.
  5. Belarus: Belarus has banned Tor and VPN services. ISPs are required to check with the daily list of banned services published by the agency.
  6. Oman: The country actively bans and censors the media, including the internet, and prohibits the use of a VPN, too.
  7. Iran: The law regarding use of VPN states that you can use one but only if it comes from providers that are licensed with the government, which indirectly defies the purpose of the VPN itself.
  8. Russia: The Russian government passed a law banning VPNs. You can read more about the story here.

This is not an exhaustive list and the laws constantly change, so it is always a good idea to check with your country’s latest regulations. Our Live Updates page has all the current news on online censorship and VPNs.

The Bottom Line

Most countries allow using a VPN, so you should be good as long as nothing illegal is being done over the VPN.

In my personal opinion, I favor net neutrality and believe that internet network should be available to everyone. There should be no restriction or favoritism by the ISP when it comes to providing content over the internet. It helps in keeping the internet transparent, useful and, fair playing ground for everybody.

Employing techniques like blocking a VPN only hints at a larger problem which needs to be solved from the root rather than putting a ban which is just a workaround at best.

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About the Author

Harsh Maurya is a technology enthusiast who has contributed numerous open source and free tools to the public. In his spare time, he also likes to spread awareness about network security and is the author of the book How Not To Get Hacked.

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