Viewing the operation of a virtual private network (VPN) understandably some wonder if it is illegal or unethical to use them. There are reasons to consider Legal VPNs, but first you need to understand how they work and why you should install one.
You will be interested in:
Many have associated the technology with illicit activities, including dark web transactions and hacking. However, the reality is that it is a perfectly reasonable tool to use while browsing the web or doing any type of activity online, and that is true for everyone.
Important note– This article explains whether the use of VPN is legal or not, but its purpose is only an educational resource, it is not legal advice.
A VPN or virtual private network disguises your primary IP address using a technique called masquerading. When you connect through your internet service provider (ISP), you are assigned an IP address, something very similar to your physical or residential address.
That IP serves as a designation and identifier in some cases, but it is not very reliable either; We will see why this is the case in a moment.
When you connect through a VPN, the tool masks or disguises your original IP address by assigning you an IP similar to that of the remote server located somewhere, usually in a different country, thus making it appear that you are in a different place than where you are really browsing.
This does various functions. First, it hides your IP address and thus also hides your physical address and identity. Second, it disables access to any internet activity, including browsing history.
Sure, the first thing that comes to mind is illicit or suspicious activity, but that’s not the only thing that dissociates. Ad networks, marketers, and data farms can’t collect information about you and your family, and what they get is inaccurate.
Internet watchdogs and their associates cannot see what you are doing or the websites you visit. Certain trackers and additional security concerns are lessened because you are essentially invisible while browsing.
Most importantly, if you choose the right VPN, your internet traffic and data is encrypted, making it extremely difficult for snoopers to decrypt and access your information.
Other problems occur related to assigned IP addresses, temporary or not. For example, the popular online tactic call Swatting, where online users call the police at your home address, is done by looking up your IP address and referencing your physical address. Sometimes they use other means to find your address, but looking up your IP is one of them.
As a bonus, you can also access region-locked content by making internet applications and websites believe that you are in a place where you really are not.
This is because you generally have the option to choose which server or IP location you are assigned to. So if a movie or show is not available to stream on Netflix in, say, the US, you can reassign your IP to Europe or the UK to watch it.
Of course, we have not yet answered the question of whether VPNs are illegal or not, but now that you understand what they do and what they protect, you will have a better understanding of the ‘why’ in this case.
In most countries, including the US, installing or using VPN is not illegal. Some countries have a strong stance on VPNs, so it can be a hot topic in those regions.
Countries that regulate or prohibit the use of VPNs include Belarus, China, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. A handful of additional countries impose laws on VPN use that dictate how and where they can be applied.
It is worth noting that some states in the US have laws related to VPNs. Even in countries where the use of VPN is legal, all that is lost if you are using one to commit illegal acts, and that also applies within the US.
Some examples of illegal activities are:
- Download and sell information or data protected by copyright
- Cyber stalking
- Access or hack into networks and devices without authorization
- Bypassing the protection measures of a website or an application (geo-blocking counts)
- Breaking the terms of service for a website or app
Using a VPN to bypass geo-blocked or region-blocked content and data is a controversial move. In some countries, it may be illegal. In others, it is not illegal, but it may cause you to be seen, or have problems with service providers.
Not only is private browsing okay, it’s also recommended. Do you want someone to be able to keep track of all the websites or applications that you have used? Do you want advertisers and marketers to keep track of all the products you’ve seen or bought?
You may or may not surf by watching or searching for porn, that’s not the point, but do you want someone to be able to see everything you searched or looked at?
No, VPNs are not only supposed to be used for illegal or illicit activities, their main use is to provide anonymity and privacy to normal people, like you. They also improve security when browsing the web, streaming, and performing various online activities, from all platforms, such as mobile devices, desktops, game consoles, media players, and more.
If you make an online purchase, for example, all data and traffic is encrypted, as long as you choose a VPN that encrypts the traffic. That means that your identity, payment details, purchase history and everything related to that transaction are better secured and protected from prying eyes.
Here are some valid and legitimate examples for having an active VPN:
- While using public or unprotected Wi-Fi networks in a private and secure way.
- Access content that is not available in your home region.
- Keep all your browsing and family browsing private and anonymous.
- Bypassing network restrictions at work, school, and elsewhere.
- Protection of browsing habits, purchase history and more.
- Better protection against advertising and marketing trackers.
It is also important to point out how a primary IP address works. Remember when we said earlier that it is not a very reliable identifier? That’s because most of the IP addresses provided by an ISP are temporary.
The protocol is different depending on the devices and provider you are using, but most of the time, you will get a new IP address when the router is updated. All old IP addresses that have been assigned to you in the past will be reassigned.
It means that any browsing history, including bad deeds, attributed to a particular IP address may not be yours, it may come from someone who was assigned the IP address before.
Also, anyone who connects to your internet connection, even someone who gains unauthorized access, will do so with the IP address assigned to you by your ISP, and if they do something wrong they could associate you with whatever they are doing.
In other words, if your child or a roommate downloads copyrighted material and you are the primary account holder with your name connected to the assigned IP, you could end up in trouble.
Not all VPNs are the same. While in general they all work the same way, some important functions distinguish whether you are well protected or simply hidden behind a smokescreen with a thin veil.
- RecordsSome VPNs keep logs of the IP addresses assigned to you, including all activity associated with them. They basically render VPNs and private browsing useless. Someone can come in, reference those logs, see the IPs assigned to you, and log all your browsing history and activities. Governments actually cite VPN providers all the time, so this is a fairly common thing to do. It is best for everyone if those records are never recorded in the first place or if they are deleted immediately.
- EncryptionAlso important, active encryption ensures that traffic to and from the VPN is protected behind a layer of coding. When encryption is used, the data is converted into an indecipherable stream, called ciphertext. Even if someone snoops the data and tries to read the message, they will see nonsense, unless they have the encryption key. Make sure you choose a VPN that uses encryption, best of all, end-to-end encryption.
- Accessibility– Some VPNs are only designed to work on select devices like laptops and desktops. That’s not good if you are using additional platforms to access the internet like mobile devices, game consoles, streaming platforms, and more. You should choose a VPN that offers compatibility with a variety of devices and platforms to protect all your browsing.
- PriceAlthough not as high a priority as some of the other factors, the price should definitely influence your decision. Compare prices and find a budget that you would like to meet. The ideal VPN fits into that budget while offering comprehensive protection at the same time.