Many Internet users opt to use a VPN, or virtual private network, when accessing the Web. These types of services encrypt your data and hide your IP address, which can be useful for adding protection over public Wi-Fi networks. However, by routing your data through a remote server and masking your IP address, VPNs can make it appear as if your Internet traffic is coming from another country or location. This makes it possible to access websites that are otherwise banned in your geographical location. The question, then, is whether or not VPN services are legal to use. The answer is a bit complicated.
What Impacts VPN Legality?
In general, VPNs are legal in most places. However, the country in which you reside plays a major role in VPN laws, and they’re not the same across the board. While there are many countries where the Internet is censored, there may be no laws against the use of VPNs in that location. Other countries, however, have made efforts to ban VPN use, and some even come with legal consequences if residents are caught using such services. The best course of action is to research the VPN laws in your country before pursuing a VPN service provider.
Which Countries Are VPNs Illegal In?
There are six main countries in which VPNs are clearly illegal. These countries include:
- China – China is known to block various VPN service providers so that residents can’t access them at all. Legislation allows VPNs that have been approved by the Chinese government, but the terms involved essentially defeat the purpose of using a VPN service. In many regions, VPNs are banned altogether. China also utilizes a method of node-blocking that allows them to isolate the Tor network and effectively block it.
- Turkey – Social media is not favored in Turkey, and the Turkish government has taken steps to block a number of websites in their region. Among these blocked websites, residents aren’t able to access VPN services to browse the Internet anonymously.
- Iraq – Iraq has also banned VPN services in an attempt to track and stop ISIS. However, government officials have still been known to use VPN services in the country despite banning it for citizens.
- United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates takes VPN use very seriously. Residents face the threat of prison time and a Dh2,000,000, or £412,240, fine for using such services.
- Belarus – In 2015, Belarus announced a ban on any service allowing Internet users to browse the web anonymously. This includes virtual private networks as well as the Tor network. Internet service providers are obligated to block any new sites offering these types of services.
- Oman – Oman is a country that actively censors media. VPNs are blocked throughout the country.
What Other Laws Affect VPN Use?
While the above countries have laws banning the use of VPNs, they’re not the only areas where residents are having a hard time browsing the Web anonymously. Several other countries have somewhat blurry lines when it comes to VPN use. These include:
- Iran – In Iran, VPNs aren’t technically illegal, but the government gets around this to essentially ban VPN use. Instead of banning all VPNs, Iran allows some that have been approved and registered with them. However, this only defeats the purpose of using a VPN.
- North Korea – VPN use in North Korea is pretty hazy. Reports are mixed on whether or not North Korean residents can in fact legally use a VPN or if there are repercussions to it. However, with North Korea’s reputation for censorship, it’s best to avoid VPN use in the country.
- Turkmenistan – Turkmenistan is known to censor the Internet from its residents, but there aren’t any laws currently in place that ban them altogether. It’s worth noting, however, that the country has taken steps to restrict VPN use in the past.
While other countries don’t actively ban VPNs, residents should familiarize themselves with local laws to ensure their Internet browsing activities won’t be met with ramifications. The issue isn’t all black and white. In the United Kingdom, for instance, some commercial VPNs have been banned due to security issues. In Australia, the government has the power to block certain sites, though VPN services have yet to be blocked.
In other countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, and many others, the government has censored certain sites like Facebook or have taken steps to police online content, yet VPN services still technically remain legal. It’s worth keeping an eye on the laws in countries where censorship already takes place as VPN laws are subject to change at any time.
If you are unsure whether VPNs are legal in your area, check out this list of VPN laws in 196 countries to learn how your country treats virtual private networks and Internet anonymity.
John is a Cyber Security/Privacy enthusiast. You can find him on twitter.