Are VPNs Legal?

While VPNs are legal to use in many countries, including the U.S., they can be associated with illegal online activity. We explain what’s legal and illicit about using VPNs, plus your rights to use a VPN in different countries.
For the most part, the good news is yes – VPNs are legal to use, including in the U.S.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt your connection to the internet and stop you from being tracked or hacked while you’re online and there are plenty of perfectly legal reasons for wanting to use a VPN.

VPNs are great for protecting your online privacy. With a VPN enabled, you can disguise your I.P. address and prevent the government, your internet provider, or third parties from monitoring what you’re up to online. While there are plenty of perfectly legal reasons you might want this degree of privacy, VPNs understandably appeal to those looking to hide less savory activities, including illegal downloads and use of the darknet.

Is It Illegal To Use a VPN?
It’s perfectly legal to use a VPN in most countries, including the U.S. This comes with a few important caveats, however:

You can use VPNs in the U.S. – Running a VPN in the U.S. is legal, but anything illegal without a VPN remains illegal when using one (e.g., torrenting copyrighted material)
A few countries ban VPNs – Some countries, including China, Russia, Iraq, and North Korea, restrict or ban the use of VPNs
VPNs use can breach terms of service – It isn’t illegal to access services such as Netflix over a VPN, though it does breach their terms of use
Law enforcement can demand information – Though most VPNs promise to keep no logs, there is precedent for VPN providers sharing user information with the authorities when requested

Can You Legally Use a VPN?
There are currently no laws prohibiting or restricting the use of VPNs in the U.S. and Canada. It’s also legal to use VPNs in many other countries worldwide, including the U.K., Australia, and Europe.

Although VPNs have suffered from a low reputation in the past due to being used for suspicious activities, there are many valid reasons people would choose to use a VPN, from accessing content on streaming services not available in their region to protect themselves when using public Wi-Fi.

It’s worth remembering that VPNs aren’t legal everywhere. They’re being banned in certain countries, particularly those with a more restrictive reputation.

Where Is It Illegal To Use a VPN?
Countries with a more restrictive reputation around civil rights and freedom of speech tend to be the ones that ban or restrict VPN use. Citizens may try to use VPNs to get around strict government monitoring of online activities or blocking of specific sites or services, for instance. The governments, in turn, attempt to block or restrict their use.

VPNs are illegal to use in Iraq, Belarus, and North Korea, and usage is heavily restricted in several other territories, including China, Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Why are there Legal Issues Around VPNs?
VPNs use encryption to make your connection to the internet private. By using a VPN, you can make yourself anonymous online and mask your browsing activity.

In some countries, particularly where the free movement of ideas is restricted, anonymous, untrackable internet usage can pose a problem for authorities. This is why some governments impose a ban or strict controls over VPN usage.

While VPNs themselves aren’t illegal in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, VPNs are sometimes used by people to disguise that they’re carrying out activities that break the law.

“In some cases, use of a VPN can breach your terms of service for a platform (such as Netflix), rather than the law itself.”

In some cases, using a VPN can breach your terms of service for a platform, rather than the law itself. For example, VPNs can be used to make it look as if you’re located in another country by routing your connection through a proxy server that’s physically situated abroad. If you’re doing this to access a service that’s geo-locked to a specific country – for example, if you wanted to stream from Netflix while you’re abroad – then you may find that doing so breaches the terms of your service agreement.
To complicate matters further, if you use a VPN to make it look as though you’re located somewhere else in the world while you’re online, you could find that your online activities are bound by the laws of the country where the server is situated – not just by the laws of the country you’re accessing the internet from.

Can you be Fined or Prosecuted for Using a VPN?
Unless you live in a country where VPNs are banned or restricted, you won’t face a penalty for using a VPN. However, in the U.S. and other countries where VPNs are allowed, you could face prosecution for any unlawful activities you carry out while using a VPN.

Using a VPN may not provide you with any protection in criminal cases, either. Many VPNs – including those that claim not to keep any logs – retain some information about their users and may reserve the right to provide this and any other relevant data to authorities, if requested.

Court documents show that VPN provider logs have been used in at least two recent cases (United States of America vs. Ryan S Lin and the United States of America vs. Suzette Kugler) to track and prosecute individuals for illegal activities carried out online while using a VPN.

Which VPNs are Legal to Use?
As long as they are deemed legal in your country, most VPNs are permitted to use. However, some might employ a slightly questionable business practice that could put you at risk.

This is especially true of free VPNs, which look appealing initially thanks to their subscription-free service, but could be selling your details on to third parties or sharing your bandwidth with other users (as has been the case with Hola in the past).
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