The Legality of VPNs – What You Need to Know

The continued use of VPNs (virtual private networks) represents huge business across the globe, particularly as businesses and individual citizens become increasingly savvy about staying safe while online.

In fact, global VPN usage is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.3% between now and 2026, with this trend driven by both corporate and individual activity across the western world.

For many, of course, there’s a reluctance to use VPNs due to the perception that they’re illegal. This is a huge misconception, however, as VPN usage is legal and accessible throughout the UK and much of the western world. Let’s find out more!

What is a VPN?

Let’s start with the basics; a VPN refers to a virtual private network that can be created within a public network infrastructure.

A VPN works by creating a virtual encrypted tunnel between servers, through which any data that’s sent from a protected device is masked and presented as random and indecipherable code.

At the same time, the sender’s real-time location and IP address is also hidden from view, ensuring that Internet service providers and those active on a particular network cannot see where you are or precisely what you’re doing online.

Because of this, the primary legal application for VPNs is accessing geographically restricted content through platforms like Netflix, particularly when users are travelling to a different country but still want to access their favourite shows (more on this below).

So, Are VPNs Legal in the UK?

The short answer is yes, primarily because there’s no specific or active legislation that prohibits the direct use of a VPN in the UK.

This rule applies so long as you’re using a VPN for legal means, such as attempting to safeguard your device from DDoS (Denial of Service) or malware attacks or prevent an Internet service provider from logging your browser history.

But are VPNs really legal when looking to access geographically restricted content? You may be surprised to note that the answer here is also yes, as once again, there’s no explicit law that prevents you from using a VPN to access specific content types online.

However, this doesn’t stop affected sites like Hulu, Netflix or various live sports broadcasters from trying to block the use of VPNs.

In fact, such companies often make such attempts to safeguard the integrity of their international content and licensing agreements, but this isn’t necessarily commonplace or guaranteed to be successful.

Nor does it change the legality of using a VPN for your Android, iOS or PC device to either secure your IP address when online or circumnavigate the content restrictions imposed by streaming services.

Are There Any Exceptions to This Rule?

At this point, it’s worth noting that using a VPN doesn’t automatically make illegal acts legal or create some form of grey area from a legislative perspective. So, there are some acts that remain prohibited with a VPN, including the following:

  • Pirate or Replicate Copyright-Protected Content: You won’t typically find that copyright law is enforced against individuals, but this practice is still illegal and shouldn’t be attempted whether you’re using a VPN or not.
  • Buy or Sell Material on the Dark Web: The dark web refers to hidden layers on the Internet in which nefarious practices take place (such as buying guns or narcotics). Such practices are always illegal in the UK, even when using a VPN to navigate the dark web.
  • Stalk or Cyberbully Someone Online: While VPNs may offer you a certain level of anonymity, you shouldn’t abuse this by bullying or maliciously targeting victims online. This is completely illegal and punishable by law at all times.

Other practices can be included on this list (such as committing crimes like fraud or cybertheft), but most are obviously criminal acts that aren’t changed or reframed by the use of a VPN.

Where are VPNs Illegal?

While you can use the best VPNs for Android devices and similar hardware to mask your IP address and access international content from the UK, the use of this type of connection is completely illegal in some regions and territories across the globe.

In others, there are heavy legislative restrictions in place, so here’s a list of the countries where you either shouldn’t use VPNs at all or at least check the local regulations before getting started: –

  • North Korea (Illegal)
  • Iraq (Illegal)
  • Belarus (Illegal)
  • Russia (Illegal)
  • China (Restricted Access)
  • UAE (Restricted Access)
  • Egypt (Restricted Access)
  • Turkey (Restricted Access)

If you’re travelling to these countries from the UK, you’ll have to respect the local laws with regards to VPN usage and proceed with absolute caution. Otherwise you could fall foul of the law and find yourself subject to fines and sanctions.

PKI-Security Engineer & security blogger at gbhackers.com. She is passionate about covering cybersecurity and Technology.

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