Which countries need VPN

Are VPNs Legal? 10 countries that prohibit the use of VPN

It might come as a surprise to some, but Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are actually banned in some countries. While the list of countries where the use of VPNs is completely banned is short, there are others that strictly regulate the industry.

In my opinion, a regulated tool like the VPN is just as good as a ban, as regulations often undermine the very purpose that VPNs were created for - anonymity and security. Because of this, it's not only interesting to know where VPNs are banned or regulated, but also why.

Where are VPNs banned?

Because every country has its own laws and regulations for everything, VPN providers often have to work from country to country. Because of this, some services are available in some countries and not in others.

1 China

Legal status: strictly regulated

China may have opened its economy to the world, but in essence and in general practice it remains very socialist. This core integration into a one-party system has resulted in some very strict regulations for citizens.

To put the VPN problem in perspective, China has long banned a large number of foreign websites and applications from accessing within its borders. Examples of this are the popular social networking site Facebook and the search for Giant Google.

Because using a VPN can essentially bypass these bans, the country has made the use of all VPNs illegal, with the exception of government-approved service providers. It goes without saying that these are usually local service providers who are accountable to the government.

Unfortunately, because the Great Firewall of China is developing so quickly that it is not possible to recommend a VPN service that works reliably there.

The closest we can think of (that isn't government or affiliated) would be ExpressVPN. It is simply based on the extreme resilience of this provider. The biggest problem is that China's firewall is extremely adaptable and a VPN provider in the country needs to work smartly.

Read more: Not all VPNs that work in China are created equal

2. Russia

Legal status: total ban

Russia may be a new (albeit complex) federation since the collapse of the Soviet state, but it remains very socialist in many ways. This is especially true of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has essentially had a firm grip on the country since his rise in 1999.

In November 2017, Russia passed a law banning VPNs in the country, criticizing the erosion of digital freedoms in the country. The move is just one of many designed to improve government control over the internet.

Recently, foreign VPN providers have been ordered to blacklist government-dictated websites. This has led to some providers such as TorGuard ceasing the services in Russia.

3. Belarus

Legal status: total ban

Belarus is a bit strange as it has a constitution that doesn't allow censorship, but several laws that enforce it. As with many countries trying to curtail digital freedom, the country has used the trend of crying 'false news' as a means to an end.

In 2016, the country finally decided to ban all internet anonymizers, which includes not just VPNs and proxies, but also Tor, which encrypts users' internet traffic through its global network of volunteer nodes.

Over the years digital freedom in Belarus has only gotten worse. Aside from obstructing access and blocking freedom of expression, the government there has strictly enforced these rules on its own citizens.

4. North Korea

Legal status: total ban

To be honest, North Korea's ban on VPN use shouldn't come as a surprise. The country has one of the most authoritarian governments there is and laws that prohibit its people from doing many things except the right to work and to worship their leader.

In 2017, the country ranked last in Reporters Without Borders' annual press freedom index. However, reports show that the most privileged in the country are able to use VPNs and Tor - mostly for skill acquisition.

I'm not sure if the banning of VPNs in the country really means anything to the population as internet access and even cellphone service are not widely available in the country.

5. Turkmenistan

Legal status: total ban

In line with the government's attempt to strictly control all media in the country, external media are not allowed. Of course, domestic media is highly regulated and the media use of VPNs is completely banned in Turkmenistan.

The country is very island-shaped and has a human rights record that is impressively horrific. Even if it is moving in the direction of modern times as a presidential republic, this is a place that remains highly socialist at heart and is tightly controlled by the ruling junta.

6. Uganda

Legal status: partially blocked

While most of the countries on this list so far have observed that they ban VPN use primarily for authoritarian reasons, Uganda is an odd duck. In 2018, the government decided it would be a good idea to tax users in the country who want to use social media websites.

Although the tax was only 200 Ugandan shillings (about $ 0.05), users turned to VPNs to get around the tax. As a result, the government ended up waging war on VPN service providers and instructing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block VPN users.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Uganda lacks the essentials to fully enforce a VPN block and many users continue to use VPNs in the country.

7. Iraq

Legal status: total ban

During the war with ISIS in the region, Iraq resorted to internet bans and restrictions as part of its defense strategy. These restrictions included a ban on using VPNs. However, that was quite a while ago and today ISIS is not as big a threat as it used to be.

Unfortunately, this is a state that often has conflicting laws and beliefs. Hence, it is almost impossible to say whether using a VPN is legal in the country today, as even censorship is a dubious topic.

Since 2005 there have been constitutional guarantees regarding censorship, but like in Belarus there are laws against those who do not self-censure. This makes using a VPN in the country a dangerous proposition.

8. Turkey

Legal status: total ban

Turkey, another country with strict censorship, has been blocking the use of VPNs in the country and making it illegal since 2018. This step is part of extensive censorship laws aimed at severely restricting access to selected information and platforms.

Over the past 12 years the ruling junta has increasingly widened its control over media channels, leaving nothing but propaganda broadcasts. Today Turkey is blocking thousands of websites and platforms ranging from social media channels to cloud storage platforms to some content delivery networks.

9. UAE

Legal status: strictly regulated

Where initial VPN use was discouraged by the wording in their laws, the UAE have since amended those laws to target the illegal functioning of VPNs. This means that using VPNs has essentially become a crime in the UAE.

If users are caught using a VPN service in the UAE, they may be fined at least 500,000 dirhams (approximately $ 136.129 USD). The government justifies this by saying that VPNs help users gain access to illegal content (illegal in the UAE at least).

Unfortunately, what the UAE thinks is illegal can be a little strange. For example, the country prohibits access to Skype and WhatsApp. This is where the 'strictly regulated' key phrase comes in because if you have a legitimate use for it, you are allowed to.

10. Oman

Legal status: total ban

While I've seen many users claim that using VPN remains a gray area in Oman, I disagree. Looking at the subject in a broader context, Oman specifically states that the use of any form of encryption in communications is illegal.

That being said, this law is practically unenforceable as it would require the country to block illegal access or allow websites that use SSL. That would mean technically most of the World Wide Web in Oman is illegal.

The situation here is strange and unfortunately there aren't many other sources on this situation.

VPN legality amid censorship and restrictions

Using VPNs is legal in most countries around the world. However, when you find yourself in a handful of people who have some form of limitation, you may face significant challenges. In many cases, the legality of VPNs seems to be directly related to the type of government controlled.

The general theme is that the more restrictive a regime is, the higher the degree of control over personal freedom. It is not always so easy to say, however, as many of them will disguise restrictions as a form of "protection" for citizens.

Why there are legal problems with VPNs

VPNs help anonymize their users' digital activities. Because of this, ISPs and governments find it difficult to track, monitor, or otherwise control the activities of VPN users. Everything you do while your VPN is active is highly encrypted.

In addition, VPN servers mask your real starting point, making you just one of millions of blank faces wandering through digital channels. Oppressive countries simply get nervous about aspects of the population that they cannot control.

VPNs are simply tools and the decision whether or not to ban them has nothing to do with the reality of legality.

Understanding VPNs and Illegal Activities

To expand on the fact that VPNs are just tools, you need to realize that VPNs and what you do with them are separate things. It's like the difference between owning a gun and what you do with it.

Some of the things you do with a VPN can be illegal - and these have nothing to do with the VPN itself. For example:

  • Illegal file sharing - Many applications and files are copyrighted or have some form of ownership. File sharing isn't an issue until you share the ones that don't belong to you or when you don't have permission to share - like most music, video, or commercial programs do.
  • Hacking - Accessing digital platforms, services or devices without permission is illegal. Regardless of your intent, doing so with or without a VPN is against the law. If you use a VPN to hack a site, just because you are anonymous is not OK.
  • Restricted materials - Some types of materials are simply illegal to have, trade, or share. Examples of this include illegal types of pornography, confidential information that does not belong to you, or limited financial information.
  • Cyber ​​stalking - Harassing or stalking someone in cyberspace is illegal almost everywhere in the world. Covering your traces with a VPN might leave you anonymous, but it won't remove the illegal aspect of your actions in that regard.

How VPN bans are enforced

From legislation to actual activity, there are many ways countries can enforce VPN bans. What they do can include:

  • Registration of VPN services - Some countries may require VPN services operating on their territory to be registered with the government. This requirement is usually accompanied by conditions for access to information, which essentially makes the VPNs unusable for data protection there.
  • Implementation of technology - While VPNs are generally invisible, some types of technologies can help identify VPN traffic. For example, deep packet inspection helps governments monitor VPN traffic status.
  • Deterrent measures - Often the prevention of VPN use is accompanied by strong deterrent measures. These measures could include jail sentences or fines for people who use VPN services without authorization.

Consequences of illegal VPN use

In countries that ban VPNs, violating the ban often has serious implications. The penalty area can vary, but often includes one (or both) of a fine and a prison sentence. For example, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), individual VPN users can be fined up to $ 500,000.

The fine or jail term can in some cases be contentious. In some countries, VPN users may be interrogated by authorities - with unknown consequences. China, for example, has frequent reports of people "disappearing" for reasons unknown.

Legality of media streaming with VPNs

It's not illegal to stream movies from legitimate streaming services while using a VPN (if VPNs are legal where you are). However, due to licensing issues, many streaming platforms like Netflix don't like this. In fact, some service providers will do their best to detect and block VPN users.

Your right to private surfing

Even so, it is important that you be clear about this: you should have a right to an adequate level of digital privacy. Even once liberal countries are now easing restrictions on businesses, allowing them to collect, use, and sometimes even sell your private information.

Therefore, even when using a VPN, pay close attention to the fine print - and even to what is not said. For example, a US-based VPN is subject to US data retention laws, which can affect the VPN provider's non-logging claims.

Read more: Does Incognito Mode Make You Anonymous?

FAQ: Are VPNs legal in ...

VPNs are technical tools and should not normally be banned as they are not directly related to illegal activity. For example, bolt cutters can be used on break-ins but have not been made illegal.

Unfortunately, given circumstances, VPNs have come into the spotlight in some countries. Let's take a quick look at whether:

Are VPNs Legal in China?

As mentioned earlier, the answer to that is a bit complex. Technically, this is not the case, but at the same time the Chinese government is allowing unapproved VPN service providers to operate in the country. As such, most legally available VPNs are usually government affiliated or in some form approved, which defeats the purpose of most VPNs.

Are VPNs Legal in the US?

Yes. The land of the free and brave hasn't managed to ban VPN services yet. In the past, however, it has succeeded in forcing or forcing some service providers to hand over user data. For this reason, before signing up with a VPN service provider, you should be clear about what jurisdiction they are in.

Are VPNs Legal in Japan?

As a close ally of the US, Japan usually follows suit on many things, and the same goes for labeling VPNs as legal. However, there are already very few internet restrictions in Japan, so using a VPN here is mainly intended for other purposes.

Are VPNs legal in the UK?

Yes, UK residents can use VPNs for free, although like the US I would recommend that users keep an eye on the jurisdiction. The UK and the US are both part of the 5 Eyes Alliance, which means they conduct and exchange digital surveillance information.

Are VPNs legal in Germany?

VPNs are legal in Germany, but users should be careful about jurisdiction as Germany is a member of the 14 Eyes alliance.

Are VPNs Legal in Australia?

Aussies will be pleased to find that VPNs are completely legal in Australia and that the country is a major server location for many service providers.

Are VPNs Legal in Russia?

VPNs, and indeed any form of anonymity applications / services, are illegal in Russia. The Rodina (motherland) loves control and these services help users bypass too many things than the government likes.

Conclusion: VPNs are and will remain tools

As you may be able to see by now, the list of countries that prohibit the use of VPNs isn't very long and consists mostly of countries that impose high levels of censorship. In most cases, it is evident that the ban stems from the government's desire to control the narrative or impede access to the outside world.

In these cases, the status of the ban (full or tightly regulated) doesn't really matter, but the motivation behind it is. This is because in reality there is no real legal reason that can be used to ban VPNs - they are just tools.

Banning VPNs is like trying to ban something like kitchen knives (or even more ridiculous, chewing gum). As you'd expect, most of the countries on this list don't really care.

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About Timothy Shim

Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. He started his career in the information technology field and quickly found his way into the print media. Since then he has worked with international, regional and local media outlets such as ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in technology from both a consumer and business perspective.