5 Legal and Ethical Aspects of VPN Usage

5 Legal and Ethical Aspects of VPN Usage

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have become increasingly popular in recent years. This comes as no surprise since securing your information while traversing the internet is essential. Especially since most of our lives are tied to the online sphere, whether that’s our banking information, location, and IDs.

But, with the increasing popularity of VPNs, it’s also become a topic of debate. After all, how legal are VPNs? Are they safe to use? And, are all VPNs legal?

Today, we’ll be tackling the legal and ethical aspects of using a VPN.

1. The Legality of Using a VPN

So, is using a VPN legal? Well, the question is more complicated than you’d think. VPNs are legal in most countries like the US, UK, and most of Europe. These countries allow you to use VPNs to safely browse the web. However, VPNs are banned in certain countries.

The use of VPNs ranges from being heavily restricted to completely banned in the following countries:

Belearus (Illegal)

In Belarus, any application that allows users to anonymously access the internet is illegal. VPNs have been illegal since 2015.

Iraq (Illegal)

Iraq has quite a few internet censorships. While it is less sophisticated than that of China or North Korea, it can and will catch and punish VPN users.

Russia (Heavily Restricted)

VPN services are legal for use as long as they operate "within the legal framework" set out by the Russian government. However, certain VPN provider URLs are blocked since they offer access to blacklisted providers. However, this does not exclude you from using the VPN software if you have it.

Oman (Heavily Restricted)

Oman exerts strict government control over its citizens. This includes internet censorship which blocks any content the government finds immoral, like pornography and drug-related material. Hence the restricted use of VPNs.

UAE (Restricted)

VPNs are lawful but severely controlled. If the VPN legislation and internet censorship regulations are violated, you may face legal consequences.

Egypt (Restricted)

VPNs are legal in Egypt but their use is restricted due to internet censorship. If you attempt to use a VPN to access blocked content, you might be imprisoned.

The purpose of VPNs is to keep you safe, and while VPNs are legal and unrestricted in many countries, many activities done using a VPN can be illegal. For example:

  • Buying or selling on the dark web: The dark web is not a place most people find themselves browsing. It commonly hosts a ton of illegal services like hiring a hitman or buying weapons and drugs.
  • Hacking, stalking, or cyberbullying: VPNs are meant to protect your information from hackers. That doesn't mean it can’t be used for hacking, cyberbullying, or stalking. All of which is illegal and just awful.
  • Pirating copyrighted content: While pirating isn’t really enforced on single individuals, it’s still illegal. After all, pirating is stealing.

If you’re still worried about how you’re using your VPN, here’s a simple rule. If you wouldn’t do it in real life, you probably shouldn’t do it online.

2. Internet Censorship

Now, we’ve touched on this before, but not every country is as liberal as the West. Countries like the ones mentioned above commonly have strict internet censorship regulations and policies. But, what is internet censorship?

In simple terms, internet censorship refers to the legal control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or seen on the internet.

Since VPNs protect your identity and can even change your location, you could use it to access restricted content. But it’s likely you’ll face legal consequences. In most countries, internet censorship falls into two categories:

  • Illegal content that is blocked by the government using technical processes.
  • Geo-blocked content which blocks certain locations from accessing certain content. Think Netflix and its region-specific content.

While we don’t think anyone is going to get arrested for accessing geo-blocked content to watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S., you might get in trouble for accessing content explicitly blocked by your government. Remember, life isn’t like the movies where government officials will offer you one of the highest-paying data scientist jobs because you’re good at accessing blocked content.

3. Torrenting and Copyright Issues

We’ve also touched on the fact that while VPNs are legal, you can still break the law depending on how you use them. One of those ways is by torrenting and streaming copyrighted material. It is common for people to use a VPN to remain anonymous so that they can engage in this activity.

While a VPN will hide any copyright infringement activities, it won’t protect you once you get caught. However, illegal streaming services and torrenting sites might maintain a no-log policy and IP leak protection to shield their users from being caught.

While it is unlikely for individuals to be fined for downloading or streaming copyrighted material, sites that illegally offer copyrighted material are often shut down or banned.

4. Can You Get Caught Using a VPN?

So, can you get caught using a VPN? Yes, you can. VPNs aren’t foolproof.

VPNs encrypt your data and information, it doesn’t hide it. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) gives you access to the Internet. Meaning that they have access to everything you’ve done online. A VPN encrypts this information so that your data looks like gibberish to your ISP.

As you can imagine, the encryption alone makes your data stand out to ISPs since it is no longer readable. This means they can tell that you’ve used a VPN. Now, there are some VPNs that make you invisible to your ISP via obfuscation.

Obfuscated servers conceal the fact that you're using a VPN to redirect your data. They allow you to connect to a VPN even in highly restricted locations. Your ISP cannot see where you browse online when you connect to a normal VPN server.

Once again, even with the proper precautions, it is risky. Especially if you’re accessing government-restricted content and reside in a country where VPNs are illegal. If you’re going to attempt using a VPN in this context, proceed with caution.

5. What Happens if You Use a VPN Illegally?

Generally, nothing. Many people use VPNs quite regularly to access geo-blocked content. How many ads have you seen where YouTube content creators are promoting the use of VPNs to access Netflix shows that are available in another country? Chances are the answer is more than one.

While the powers that be don’t necessarily crack down on this kind of activity, there are riskier ways to use a VPN. Things like hacking, stalking, cyberbullying, or engaging with the dark web might put you at risk.

So, what happens if you use a VPN illegally and are unfortunate enough to get caught?

The consequences depend on both the activity and the country you’re in. If you get caught illegally downloading content in a country that has unrestricted VPN legislation, you could only get a fine or be banned from the site.

However, in countries where VPNs are illegal or heavily restricted, you could face imprisonment or other legal penalties.

It also depends on what you did. For example, if you used a VPN to hack into a government database, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in, you might be imprisoned.

When using a VPN, we suggest becoming familiar with your country’s stance on VPN usage and being careful with the activities you engage in.

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