The legality of VPN use is a question asked frequently by many VPN users around the world. VPNs are tools that help you establish an encrypted connection over a less secure network such as your local Wi-Fi or the internet. It is your go-to tool for a more protected internet experience. It enables you to use the internet while sustaining privacy through safety measures such as tunneling, encryption, and port forwarding (the transfer of data for private use through a public network in a way that the public network is oblivious to the nature of the data) protocols.
VPNs were initially created to help connect business computers and networks together safely over the internet. They virtually direct all your network traffic to the other network trhough a tunnel.
These days, VPNs have become popular and important for their benefits such as:
- Bypassing internet censorship
- Bypassing geographically restricted websites
- Hiding browsing activities from local networks
- Help you attain an anonymous status online by hiding your location
Are VPNs Legal?
VPNs are generally legal to use but they are also considered illegal in some countries. Basically, VPNs are considered legal or illegal depending on the user’s country of residence. In a country where using VPN is permitted, it remains legal as long as it is not used to break the law. It is legal in most countries in the world that are considered free countries, such as the US, all of Europe, etc… Though the VPN service providers in a country such as the United Kingdom, for example, are compelled to act in accordance with the law to release data to the authority when required (in the case of a criminal investigation).
You can find a comprehensive list of countries and their stance on the legality of VPNs here. There are generally little or no laws prohibiting the use of VPNs in these countries unless when used for illegal activities. It is important to note that the use of VPN in any country must be done in accordance to the guidelines of that country.
If VPNs are Illegal, Why?
Some countries that consider the use of VPN as Illegal put in laws to restrict the use of it for the purpose of curtailing unlawful activities such as fraud and identity theft, among others carried out online using VPN. But most countries ban VPN services in order to restrict online freedom and preserve political power. They fear their citizen accessing information that goes against the country’s belief systems or political narrative.
Where are VPNs Illegal?
The restrictions for VPN usage varies in different countries. In some countries, the restrictions are not so severe or absolute. In Turkey, it is used to restrain the use of social media. There are some countries where only VPNs that have been registered with the government by their providers are allowed. There are also others where it is used to achieve a positive result. For example, in the UAE the government uses the ban to support the telecommunications industry. The consequences for breaking these bans vary from paying fines, to a jail term.
An absolute ban was placed on the usage of VPNs in Iraq to monitor the activities of terrorist groups and also to trail and stop from exploiting social media.
VPN usage in China is forbidden by law. VPN service providers are only allowed to function if they secure an authorization from the government after agreeing to some terms and conditions.
The ban on VPN services in the UAE is inspired by the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services also called the Internet Protocol (IP) telephony such as Skype and WhatsApp which adversely affects the revenue of the local telecommunication companies. Through this strategy, the government of the UAE has been able to support this industry.
Some would say however that these reasons given by governments are just false pretenses. So make up your own mind!
The governing authorities of countries where VPN usage is legal can still find ways to track the online activities of their citizens through other means. While in countries that consider its usage illegal, internet users still discover techniques with which they bypass government censorship.
The bottom line remains that since VPN provides individuals with the freedom to surf the internet (as it provides access to geographically restricted websites) and also enables businesses and governments with the privacy they desire to keep their transactions and sensitive data safe, its importance cannot be overemphasized.
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