An estimated 1.2 billion of internet users (that’s 31% of them) routinely use a VPN when surfing and browsing the internet in order to protect their anonymity and prevent tracking. However, some regimes around the world have actually banned or even criminalised the use of private VPNs. In this post we will take a closer look.
What is a VPN and Why One?
A VPN or Virtual Privacy Network is a software programme that can be downloaded and run on any device that can access the internet. A VPN ‘masks’ the users IP address and location protecting the users privacy. With tech companies becoming ever more intrusive and mining more and more of our personal data, VPNs have soared in popularity.
Not only do VPNs protect users from excess tracking by tech companies, they can also protect users from being tracked by cyber criminals. Using a VPN is also recommended when using a public network and using a VPN for travel is a go-hack of any serious traveller.
While VPN’s are useful and beneficial to their users, a small number of countries have taken the curious step of banning or limiting the use of VPN’s and perhaps not surprisingly, both Russia and China are among them.
Why Are VPNs Banned?
As well as protecting a user’s identity, VPNs also allow users to bypass firewalls and access ‘restricted’ content. Countries like China and Russia are both authoritarian regimes that employ strict online censorship policies so are understandably less than happy about VPNs helping their citizens to get around these restrictions. In China, popular websites such as Facebook are banned and Russia has a “banned” list that includes pretty much any Western Media that is critical of the latter day Tsarship of Vladimir Putin.
Legality of VPN Across the World
North America – Using a VPN is legal in both the USA and Canada. Who would have guessed?
China – Using a VPN is legal in China. Although the regime has repeatedly threatened to ban them, VPN’s have become a staple of doing business. That said, VPNs can only be purchased from state approved suppliers.
Russia – The situation in Russia is quite similar to China and VPNs are legal. Rather, a number of “western” VPN providers are banned in favour of state sanctioned software companies. Users in Russia have noted that some online content is difficult to access even with a VPN.
Iraq – Iraq is one of the few countries that have actually made VPNs illegal and criminalized. That said, policing and enforcing the policy is difficult and there are relatively few instances of personal VPN users being prosecuted.
Iran – Perhaps surprisingly, Iran presently has no restrictions on the use of VPN’s despite the regime’s severely restrictive internet censorship policies. That said, the situation may soon change under proposed new legislation.
North Korea – In North Korea, internet use is severely limited to trusted ruling party members and officials. As using the internet is largely illegal, using a VPN is illegal too.
Turkey – On the surface, Turkey appears to be a modern, functioning democracy but beneath the surface, the regime restictust and censors the internet and a number of leading VPN providers were banned from the country.
Turkmenistan – VPN’s are illegal in Turkmenistan and the regime became actively punishing contravention in 2019.
Belarus – Europe’s last dictatorship has predictactly made VPN’s illegal and use is criminalised.