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Are VPNs legal in 2022? VPN use in the US and China

Are VPNs legal in 2022? VPN use in the US and China


A VPN is incredibly useful when you’re traveling abroad and still need to access Netflix US or local secure websites that require certain IP addresses, like your bank. VPNs also help citizens of repressive regimes (such as China or Russia) bypass efforts to censor information and regulate the Internet. However, before switching to your preferred VPN, you should ask yourself: Are VPNs legal in this country?

If the answer is no, you can land in hot water if a VPN isn’t as secure as you think (this is especially true of most free VPNs). You must fully understand the legality of VPNs to avoid the harsh effects of breaching internet censorship laws. Of course, if the answer is “I don’t know,” you’ll likely find out before using your VPN to weigh the pros and cons.

The main takeaway:

  • VPNs are legal in most countries, such as the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and most European countries.
  • Some countries with strict internet censorship laws — such as Russia, Turkey, and Belarus — block VPNs to maintain control of the internet and to prevent citizens from circumventing internet restrictions and government censorship.
  • A Virtual Private Network (VPN) does not sanitize illegal activities online. Any online activity that is illegal without a VPN remains illegal with a VPN. Government agencies will bring charges against you for stalking or hacking, whether or not you use a VPN.

In this article, we’ll explain some of the issues surrounding VPN legality around the world, as well as detail which countries allow or don’t allow you to use a VPN legally.

  • Can I have trouble using a VPN?

    You could get into the trouble of using a VPN in a country where this is illegal. Even in countries where VPNs are legal, you may face punitive actions for using the tool to do something illegal.

  • Is Using a VPN for Netflix Legal?

    Yes. If you are located in the United States or any other country that allows VPN apps, it is legal to use a VPN to get around Netflix content restrictions.

  • Are VPNs illegal anywhere?

    Yes, some countries like North Korea, Iraq, and Belarus explicitly prohibit the use of VPNs within their borders. Other countries such as China, Russia, and Turkey do not ban VPNs completely, but they do impose restrictions to control their use.

  • Is VPN Legal in Australia?

    Yes, it is legal to use a VPN in Australia.

There is no law prohibiting the use of VPNs in the US – thus, using a VPN in the US is perfectly legal. Some law enforcement agencies such as the FBI recommend the use of VPNs to mitigate the risk of cybercrime.

However, while using a VPN provider or the proxy service itself is legal, using them to carry out illegal activities online remains illegal. For example, online stalking, downloading child pornography, hacking, and illegal file sharing are illegal activities, whether you use the best VPN or not.

If you get caught, a VPN won’t save you from dire consequences (we’ll dive into the repercussions later). Using a VPN will work against you if the provider does not have a strict no-logs policy (as a criminal user of IPVanish discovered the hard way). There is also a possibility that the VPN service provider may share user information if they receive a law enforcement request.

It is perfectly legal in the US to use VPNs to stream site-restricted content. This means that using the best VPN for streaming to unblock Netflix, or the best VPN for to bypass MLB bans, will not land you in jail.

However, content providers may have terms of service that state that you cannot use a VPN. They may also try to block location spoofing services due to regional content agreements, using innovative algorithms to detect and block VPN users. In the worst case scenario, content providers will only cancel your subscription for breach of their Terms of Service.

What can I legally use a VPN for?

The most secure VPNs hide your digital tracks and activities from the service itself – called a “no-logs policy” – so your ISP, government agencies, and other third parties can’t see what you’re doing online, even with law enforcement requests. However, the VPN’s ability does not give you leeway for illegal activities, such as online stalking or hacking into other people’s systems.

Instead, you should limit VPN use to things that are permitted by law on the World Wide Web, including:

  1. Accessing Unsecured WiFi Networks: Using a VPN to access public WiFi networks is both legal and indispensable in an era where cyber attacks are prevalent today. A VPN gives you a strict layer of security that cannot be hacked by cybercriminals who hover around public WiFi networks.
  2. Getting around network-level restrictions: It is perfectly legal to use a VPN service to bypass network level restrictions to access permitted content, such as YouTube educational videos at work.
  3. Bypass geo-restrictions: If you travel abroad, say to the UK, you can only access less than 35 percent of the US Netflix library. Using the best VPN for Netflix allows you to access all US Netflix movies. It also gives you a US IP address, allowing you to circumvent power outages and stream live NBA games wherever you are.
  4. Maintaining Internet Privacy: You can use a VPN to maintain a watertight digital privacy. It helps defeat censorship and Internet Service Provider (ISP) throttling and prevents advertisers and third parties from collecting information about you.

A VPN allows you to easily bypass network level restrictions in your workplace or school.

Consequences of using a VPN in illegal activity

Law enforcement authorities can bring criminal charges against you for illegal online activities, whether or not you use VPN services. The size of the punishment depends on the nature of the crime and the laws that you violated. For example, in the United States:

Where are VPNs illegal?

A VPN provider encrypts your internet traffic, making it virtually impossible for organizations and government authorities to see what you’re doing on the internet. The nature of how VPNs operate prevents some governments from getting a comprehensive view of the internet landscape within their borders.

As a result, these governments completely ban the use of VPNs or impose restrictive measures to take back control of Internet use. Some of these countries include:

  1. North Korea – illegal
  2. Iraq – illegal
  3. Belarus – illegal
  4. Sultanate of Oman – partial; Illegal for individuals
  5. China – partial; Unauthorized VPNs are illegal
  6. Russia – partial; Illegal when used to access blocked content
  7. Turkey Legal but severely restricted
  8. The United Arab Emirates Legal but restricted
  9. Iran – Legal with some restrictions

Most governments justify their actions as protecting their citizens from cybercrime and terrorism. In reality, though, their justification is only a front for their true intentions – to stifle the freedom to use the Internet. Here are the exact details about the legality of VPNs in these countries.

1. North Korea: Illegal

North Korea is taking the ban on VPNs the furthest from any country. First of all, the Internet is not a free space in the country, and only citizens can use Kwangmyong – the national intranet service. Using a VPN is strictly prohibited, so your use within the country is likely to lead to imprisonment.

2. Iraq: illegal

Although Iraq’s internet censorship is less repressive than China’s, for example, VPN use is illegal. Iraqi authorities have banned VPN use in an effort to reduce the threat of ISIS online. Despite Iraq’s suppression of the ISIS threat, it maintained the hardline stance on using a VPN to access censored websites and apps.

3. Belarus: Illegal

The Belarusian government banned VPNs, Tor, and anonymizing technologies in 2015. At the time of writing this article, the government has not eased the VPN ban. In addition, the government tightly censors websites and apps that it considers unpopular. ISPs should constantly check the updated list of censored sites.

4. Oman: Partially Illegal

The legal use of VPNs in Oman is in a gray area. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in Oman prohibits the use of VPNs by individuals. However, private and public organizations can use VPNs to bypass Internet provider censorship or VoIP blocking once the TRA approves their request to do so.

Using a VPN for private purposes fines you $1,300, while companies that use a VPN without proper permission are fined $2,600.

5. China: Partially Illegal

Although VPNs are technically legal in China, their use is severely restricted and most VPN services are blocked. The government only licenses VPN providers who adhere to its strict terms of service. Besides, the government frequently bans unlicensed VPNs to keep VPN options that cannot circumvent the Great Firewall of China. If you get caught doing something naughty in China, you could face years in prison.

6. Russia: Partially Illegal

Using a VPN in Russia is legal. In fact, the 2017 VPN Act does not criminalize the use of these services. Instead, it is prohibited to use it to bypass internet censorship – and it is illegal to use a VPN for illegal activities. However, in an effort to tighten its grip on VPN use, the Russian government shut down nine VPNs in 2019 for failing to comply with a censorship request.

Although there is no Turkish law banning the use of VPNs, the Erdogan regime has banned a lot of VPN providers since 2016. The government uses deep packet inspection techniques to identify and block VPN services operating in the country, where foreigners may also face legal action for using VPNs.

The UAE does not explicitly prohibit VPN use; It is legal to use a VPN in the country as long as you do so in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. In 2016, the United Arab Emirates amended its Internet law to include a clause prohibiting the use of a VPN for illegal purposes. Violations are punishable by imprisonment or a fine of up to $544,000.

Using a VPN in Iran is not illegal – provided that the VPN service is registered with the government. The government frequently bans illegal VPNs in the country but does not clearly state whether the use or distribution of these tools is illegal.

However, a new bill presented to parliament by Iranian lawmakers in 2020 could change the landscape. The bill proposes heavy fines and up to two years in prison for people caught producing or distributing VPNs without proper government permission.

VPNs are perfectly legal in most parts of the world – including the US, UK, Australia, and Europe – but not everywhere. Some countries, especially those that seek “military control” of the internet, impose severe bans on VPNs.

VPN restrictions and bans vary from country to country. For this reason, if you are traveling abroad, you should exercise your due diligence to understand the legal status of VPNs. Doing so will help you to avoid violating the internet laws in foreign countries, thus avoiding harsh repercussions such as imprisonment or heavy fines.

Have you ever been in trouble to use a VPN in a restricted country? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. As always, thank you for reading the article.

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