Are VPNs legal?

An interesting few questions into our inbox came today, asking a bit about how VPNs work and  what a VPN router does but the third and final question was about the legality of using a VPN. Is it legal to use a VPN ?

This is an interesting point as there are users who use VPNs for illegal activities, i.e. accessing illegal content. But this question refers more to what about the case that you aren’t doing anything illegal with the VPN, and just using it to protect your identity?

Hard at work here in the office

Reasons for a VPN

Ultimately a VPN is just a technology tool, that routes your internet traffic via 1 or more 3rd party servers. That being said some of the benefits include:

  • The ability to hide your internet activity from your Internet Service Provider, the school network administrator or even the government. This is the argument from people who talk about the right to privacy.
  • Certain networks or websites can blocked or censored, and a VPN can enable you to evade censorship.
  • With a VPN you can ‘geo-spoof‘ your location. This may result in getting access to content or services that are not available in your physical location, but in anther. This is often used to circumvent media rights restrictions.
  • Provide anonymity for P2P downloaders and users accessing illegal websites.
  • Add a layer of security to your internet connection, i.e. using an unsecured public WiFi hotspot in a hotel or café.

Countries that block VPNs

There are a number of countries that block VOIP / Skype or certain websites, but that is an article for another day. There is a shorter list of countries that actively try to block VPN software.

  • Since May 2011 China has been blocking VPN users, by using so called ‘deep packet inspection’ where the raw packets of data sent between computers are analysed. Some systems only look at the header information of the packet to see if they are likely to be coming via a VPN or not.
  • In Marcy 2013 Iran’s government had started to block VPNs. There are some state sanctioned VPN services but their privacy and functionality are questioned.
  • In 2016, the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has declared a fine of €122,000 – €492,000 for anyone caught using an VPN fraudulently. Of course it is necessary for companies to have their employees who are out of the office ‘tunnel’ onto their network. The term fraudulently relates to the case where it is used to subvert or access content that people in UAE shouldn’t.

So the case is here, if you are going to these countries or others where VPNs may be illegal make sure you know the consequences of your actions. Even if you aren’t planning on using the VPN software while you are there, we would recommend that you remove the software before traveling to avoid any issues.


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