As an active technical and sometimes legal contributor to Quora, I ran into a question about the legality of VPNs in countries like Canada. In Canada, we tend to take VPNs for granted, but it has now come to my attention that there are many whom question the legality of its use. After all the assumption is that you can’t simply be allowed to mask where you’re accessing the internet from or can you?
The Quora question got me thinking about the legality of VPNs in general. However, the short answer is obviously that VPNs, are not banned nor its use restricted in USA, Canada or any part of Europe. As a matter of fact, the use of VPNs isn’t restricted in 90% of the world because it is seen an enhanced privacy step. Then there is also the fact that blocking or banning VPNs is nearly impossible.
Why do you want to use a VPN?
My research into the legality of using VPNs led to perhaps one of the most controversial statements by an attorney who suggested that your intention matters. While the vast majority of Canadiens may use VPNs for enhanced privacy (which is entirely legal), there are also many nefarious uses which are seen as being illegal.
Uses by businesses to set up information security for instance or protect family members from hackers and scammers are legal. Also, some may want to use VPNs to unlock otherwise geo-restricted websites or content, which too is legal. The government isn’t going to target you from trying to access the US version or the European version of Netflix so as long as you’re not pirating the content. Though your account could get flagged by Netflix and perhaps restricted or penalized in some other way if they found out about you using a VPN.
But the use of VPNs is just as illegal as they are legal…I know that’s a confusing statement. They are illegal if you decide to use them to download illegal copies of pirated movies from torrent websites. It is also unlawful to access child porn, engage in espionage, hacking, distribution of illegal software, impersonating a government official, coning people, etc. So, in order to clamp down on such illegal activities governments like that of America have asked that American VPN service providers maintain logs.
Most US-based VPN services tend to maintain logs, and those logs can be accessed by law enforcement if required. It is also perhaps one of the reasons why many people don’t use American VPN service providers. However, if you have nothing hide, then why hide from the government?
Some countries have banned VPNs
Even though VPNs are legal for use in Australia, Canada, USA and Europe, there are some countries where it is not. Countries like China, Iran, North Korea, Iraq have banned VPNs. Then there are countries like the UAE, and Oman where only approved VPN service providers can operate and are not allowed for personal use.
If you happen to reside in any of the countries mentioned above, you shouldn’t be using a VPN. Now I know many people reading this would say that how does the government know who is using a VPN. After all in a country like China where there are well over a billion people of which 80% have access to the internet how is the ban enforced? Well, its hard for these countries and it goes without saying that many people are using VPNs to run websites, communicate on forums and even use social media websites like Facebook which we tend to take for granted. But it does not mean that they don’t run the risk of being caught.
Why have these countries banned VPNs?
The simple and most easy to understand answer to this is that the government likes to control what people think. Freedom of speech is seen as a weapon, and the internet is the last bastillion of this type of free speech. So, they believe that by controlling who accesses the internet and how dissidents and their rhetoric can be controlled.
However, these countries like to attribute the ban to trivial matters like criminal activities online. They don’t have that same ‘innocent until proven guilty’ type attitude we have in the west. So, they tend to brand everyone who uses a VPN as a criminal which is a pretty broad stroke. It is like saying that everyone who has a Facebook page sells illegal drugs online. Maybe perhaps they are contributing to online prostitution by having online dating profiles!
How is the ban enforced?
As mentioned above it is pretty hard for governments to ban VPNs, especially for tech-savvy individuals. In countries like China their ‘Great Firewall of China’ is bypassed on a daily basis by millions of Chinese who have Facebook profiles, use Google search, watch YouTube videos, read Wikipedia articles and communicate online.
Bans are usually enforced by governments who issue a decree or memo to all ISPs to block certain IP addresses which are associated with VPN service providers. In addition, a list of ports may also be blocked which should technically prevent VPNs from being used. However, this may only be good enough to block or hinder a regular VPN user. Those who are tech savvy know precisely how to bypass these blocks. Then there are many VPN service providers who come up with new ways for regular people to circumvent these bans without being detected.
Should you use a VPN if it’s banned in your country?
If you happen to be reading this article in China, Iran or North Korea, be assured of the fact that many of the best VPN service providers can help you bypass all the roadblocks set up by your government. What’s more, you can stay under the radar for the most part.
What you need to do is to choose a trusted VPN service provider. We have a complete list of service providers here. Choose a provider from the list that fits your budget, goals and which guarantees a free trial. Then use it to start accessing all the content that’s blocked in your country. What’s more is the fact that you can’t be caught unless you go out openly and tell people you’re using a VPN. Most ISPs even in the developed world cannot detect VPN usage. So, you’re pretty much in the clear.
VPNs services are heaven sent whether you’re living under a suppressive government or in Canada. The fact that you control your privacy is what makes these services worth it. That said those who are accessing the internet from the developed world may find that using a VPN gives them better control over what they share. The recent Facebook scandal if anything should sound a wakeup call for everyone who uses the internet that they shouldn’t be accessing without proper VPN protection in place. After all, you never know who’s watching and why!