In most countries, the use of a VPN is legal. It is a known fact that many big companies and corporations use VPNs to help their remote workers create secure connections to company servers for security purposes.
However, there are many VPNs that are specifically sold to consumers. This raises a problem in countries who want to have complete control over what the people there see and do on the Internet.
VPNs Are Considered Illegal In Some Countries
A virtual private network (VPN) can be used to bypass government censorship which is the point that makes them unacceptable in more totalitarian countries.
In China for example, you can only use government-approved VPN services.
In other countries like North Korea, the use of a VPN is completely banned.
You could get into trouble with the authorities when you use a VPN in countries like Turkey, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Oman, Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan.
Your Rights Around VPNs
Where you stay (or even travel to) may impact your rights around VPNs.
There are a handful of governments who either regulate or outright ban VPNs and others who impose internet censorship laws, which makes using a VPN risky sometimes.
Depending on the specific country, the laws that surround VPN usage may differ; some governments may even impose fines on both the citizen and the VPN service provider for using any unsanctioned VPN.
As of now, using a VPN in the US is legal. However, if you use a VPN to commit an act that is illegal, that is deemed to be also illegal. This may include acts of downloading and selling copyrighted information and cyberstalking.
As an example, using a VPN service is legal in the UK only if it is used within legal guidelines. You can use a VPN to add an extra layer of security to your browsing at home or when you’re on the go. However, if you use a VPN to commit any crime, that’s still illegal.
In some countries, banks and companies are free to use VPNs as means of preventing terrorist or criminal activities. However, using a VPN to circumvent a website or app’s protection measures could be a legal violation – not to mention the VPN’s Terms of Service too.
Before signing up with a VPN provider, please make it a point to read the Terms of Service. Most of the time, The Terms will state that you’re responsible for any illegal activity on your part, and the VPN provider may also state that it will report any suspected fraud or illegal activity to the law enforcement.
It is advisable to also read the Terms and Conditions of any services you’re using.
See our top VPN picks for different usages.
Can Authorities Track VPN Users?
In general, most government agencies cannot track live, encrypted VPN traffic. However, if they have a court order, they can approach your VPN service provider and make a request for connection logs.
This is where the ‘no logging’ claim of a VPN service provider (if it offers that) will come into play. If your VPN provider really doesn’t keep logs, there’s simply nothing to hand over.
VPNs may collect different kinds of data though, so make sure you know what the “no logging” clause really covers. Some VPNs may claim not to log, but actually do – that’s when problems start to arise.
Another important facet that comes into play here is jurisdiction. If the VPN service provider is headquartered in a country that has strong data privacy laws, it may refuse to cooperate with overseas requests.
For example, if the requesting agency is in the US and demands for information from a VPN provider based in Panama – they are not likely to have any luck.
This of course also depends on the legislation of the county the VPN service provider is in. Think of it like Swiss banking back in the days when they could say “no” to anyone who came around to ask questions.
The thing to keep in mind though is primarily the “no logging” clause. There are legitimate zero-logs VPN service providers, which makes it hard for any government authority to track you down.
Also, remember that your VPN data traffic is encrypted, so they cannot know what you have been accessing online. This is the reason why it is typically a good idea to also consider a VPN service that has conducted a third-party audit of its zero-logs policy.
Panama & British Virgin Islands – What These Countries Have to do With Your Privacy
Panama and the British Virgin Islands are two examples of near-perfect jurisdictions for VPN companies. “Perfect” in this context means weak data retention regulations and intense levels of Data Privacy,
VPN service providers are subject to the country’s laws where they incorporate. If you don’t note where yours is registered, your privacy might be at risk.
What is Data Privacy?
Data Privacy refers to how well companies keep data away from unwarranted access. Aside from company policies, factors like country regulations also affect the degree of Data Privacy. The latter is significant since it often overrides company policy.
Panama Data Privacy
Panama does not have any legislation mandating data retention. March 2019 also saw the implementation of Panama’s data privacy law. The regulation prevents personal data from being processed without the data holder’s explicit consent.
British Virgin Islands Data Privacy
The British Virgin Islands implemented the Data Protection Act in July 2021. This regulation is its first guideline restricting how businesses can process personal data. High levels of consumer protection aim to bring personal data protection there up to EU standards.
What is Data Retention?
Data Retention is companies’ keeping of specific information required for various purposes. These purposes cover a broad scope and include marketing, customer identification, legal compliance, and more.
Each company typically builds a Data Retention policy aligned with its business needs. For example, a mobile application company may need to retain customer location data to support operational requirements.
VPNs and Data Retention
VPN companies are often the inverse of most traditional businesses in data retention. These companies are focused on the business of user privacy. As such, they should retain minimal amounts of user data.
Specifically, VPN service providers should not retain data that could identify the identities or activities of their customers. This data includes connection timestamps, IP addresses, and more.
However, as businesses, VPN companies must comply with their jurisdiction’s legal requirements regarding Data Retention. For example, Europe has mandatory Data Retention requirements that make locally registered VPN brands unable to comply with some “No Logging” statements.
Ideally, look for a VPN brand that’s legally registered in a location with less stringent Data Retention laws. Good examples include Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
Final Thoughts on VPN Legality
It is important to understand what’s considered legal and illegal while using a VPN. Ultimately, you may be allowed to use them as tools, but you have to monitor your own behavior. Stealing something while nobody is looking is still a crime.
Be aware of the laws regarding VPN use in your country, but also keep an eye out for those of places you intend to travel to. Remember that anything that is considered illegal without a VPN in your country remains illegal when using one.
Your VPN usage often stays legal as long as your virtual behavior does.