Are VPNs Legal?

Can you legally disguise your IP address?

A virtual private network (VPN) can encrypt your internet connection and prevent others from tracking or hacking you while you're online. People use VPNs for a variety of reasons in addition to improving privacy and anonimity. But are VPNs legal? The short answer is maybe. The longer answer depends on a number of factors.

Where Are VPNs Legal to Use?

VPNs are legal to use in the United States and Canada. In fact, they are legal to use in a number of countries, including the UK, Japan, and Australia and many others. However, in places like North Korea and Cuba, strict internet censorship laws make using a VPN a dangerous activity, even though technically, VPNs are not banned in those countries.

Man using a VPN on a laptop computer.
Unsplash 

In fact, the list of countries where VPNs are outright banned is relatively small. They include*:

  • Belarus
  • China
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Lybia
  • Oman
  • Russia
  • Syria
  • Turkey
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Venezuela

*Laws change frequently, and this list is not exhaustive. Your best bet when trying to determine if it's legal to use a VPN in your country is to research local law to learn the facts about the legality of using a VPN where you live.

In countries (such as Libya and Syria) where the installed government may not have complete control, even if laws are in place to restrict the use of VPNs, the government may not be able to enforce those laws. However, that doesn't make using a VPN less illegal. And if you use one in those countries and get caught, there will be legal consequences.

Illegal Activity Is Still Illegal

You shouldn't assume that because it's legal to use a VPN means it's legal to do whatever you want while you're connected to that VPN. It's a sure-fire way to get into trouble. Yes, a VPN hides your personal information while browsing the web or streaming entertainment content in geo-restricted locations, any illegal activities you engage could still be held against you. Simply put: a VPN makes it harder to track you, but not completely impossible.

Some VPN service providers keep record of the IP addresses users visit while connected to their VPN. Others claim to have no logs at all and record only the originating IP address for the user who connected through the VPN.

In either case, if information is collected, and the VPN provider complies with a subpoena to provide that information, any data collected in regard to your internet habits while connected through the VPN can be used against you in court. This means that participating in piracy, certain types of pornography, or other illegal activities may not be hidden behind the protection of the VPN, even if the company claims to have a 'no logs' policy. So, using a VPN is not a green light to commit crimes.

Some VPN providers specifically operate in countries where they cannot be compelled by authorities to release data collected about users and those users' internet habits. That's why you may find that your favorite VPN service provider is based in another country.