You can’t always control what other people do with your data. You can, however, control how much personal data you reveal to them. That makes a VPN, for example, one of your best online privacy bets. The only problem is that not every country likes them.
95% of Americans are worried about how corporations use their data.
Some of these concerns involve cyberattacks, spam-ridden websites trying to plant viruses on their devices, or what online stores and SaaS companies are doing with their information.
In the words of Gene Spafford, “The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards.”
You can’t always control what other people do with your data. You can, however, control how much personal data you reveal to them.
That makes a VPN, for example, one of your best online privacy bets.
The only problem is that not every country likes them. Some, in fact, claim that they’re illegal.
So here’s a quick guide to figuring out where they’re OK and where they’ll land you in hot water.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is exactly what it sounds like.
It’s a way to add online privacy when you’re browsing the internet. Perhaps the most noteworthy benefit is that VPNs allow users to access websites that are otherwise blocked under their current IP address.
Essentially, the VPN allows you to change your IP address regardless of your actual location. Which further means that you can access the websites allowed under the IP address you choose rather than those under the IP address of your physical location.
Here’s a perfect example.
China blocks Facebook under its own IP address and encourages its residents to use other social media channels instead. However, if you were to use a previously-installed VPN, you could change your IP address to one from somewhere in America and access Facebook all the same.
Of course, that’s just one use of VPNs. They specialize in hiding your private information from governments, hackers, and corporations alike.
A VPN can help you protect your basic human rights, establish a secure online connection to secure your billing information, and even hide your identity from cyber hackers.
However, not every country on the planet is VPN-friendly. Let’s quickly break them down.
Which countries allow you to use VPNs, and which ones don’t?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is complicated.
The vast majority of countries allow you to use VPNs without any trouble. But there are some countries where you will need to exercise far more caution. And in some countries, the question as to whether VPNs are illegal is a difficult one to answer.
North Korea, for example, doesn’t seem to have a black-and-white policy for VPNs. However, they definitely don’t like them. The country hasn’t outlawed them explicitly — from what we can tell — but reports of punishments for using a VPN in North Korea seem to range from a small fine to capital punishment.
The Iranian government also hasn’t explicitly outlawed the use of all VPNs; they’ve only banned the use of certain VPNs that they have specifically prohibited.
Which sort of defeats part of the purpose of VPNs if you think about it. And if you get caught using those outlawed VPNs, you could be sentenced to a year in prison.
For your reference and to avoid those kinds of punishments, a fact check of 196 countries found that these are the nine countries where VPNs are currently either questionable in their legality or completely outlawed.
VPNs are fair game in all of the other countries within the study.
As you explore which countries allow VPNs and which ones do not, you’ll likely notice a trend. One that is undeniable.
Namely, that countries with firm dictatorial systems or highly authoritative governments tend to ban VPNs more often than democratic countries.
China is a perfect example of a country with a highly authoritative government that aims to control the information that its citizens can access. In the eyes of China’s government, VPNs undermine that control, making it far more difficult for officials to monitor residents’ online behavior.
Because of this, China has been trying to find ways to completely ban VPNs from its country.
In one recent effort, the Chinese government promised to fine anyone caught using an illegal VPN up to 15,000 yuan, which is $2,178.
But, of course, the developers who create VPN software are often savvy enough to dodge a massive government’s peering eyes. Many, like VyprVPN, are coming out with features like Chameleon that “defeat VPN blocking and throttling worldwide.”
In other words, they know how governments are trying to look for them and are unveiling features designed to thwart their efforts.
These countries don’t like that, though. So can you still use VPNs in countries where it’s either discouraged or outright illegal?
Naturally, the legal answer to that question is no, you can’t. But ultimately, the decision is your own. Before you decide, though, you should weigh the risks of doing so.
If you do decide to use VPNs in illegal countries, you will be far from the only person doing so. In fact, many of the top countries where people access VPNs are also some of the countries where VPNs are the most strictly outlawed.
That makes sense when you think about it.
After all, the goal of a VPN is to hide the user’s activity from outside sources. And when the local government is monitoring every online move, it makes sense that more people would prefer to hide their actions.
One thing to note, however, is that you can’t access and download VPNs from IP addresses where VPNs are illegal. So if you intend to use a VPN on your next trip to China, you need to download the software before going overseas.
But before you go off and download a VPN for your next foreign trip, you should consider the punishments if you get caught.
Because while you can probably get away with using a VPN in countries where it’s questionable or illegal, there’s plenty of risks involved with doing so, and you need to be aware of what that entails.
You might be able to enhance your own online privacy for a while, but is that hidden searching really worth a slap on the wrist, a fine, or, in some cases, jail time?
The United Arab Emirates strictly prohibits the use of VPNs in their country, for example. Here’s what they say.
“Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dhs 500,000 and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000 of either of these two penalties.”
To give you some context around those fines, that’s a penalty that sits between $136,000 and $544,500.
Before using a VPN in a country where they’re illegal, you should consider the punishment if you’re caught. Ask yourself, “Is that a punishment I’m willing to take?”
So are VPNs legal in every country?
The short answer to that question is no. They definitely are not. Multiple countries discourage them, and others outlaw them completely. When you intend to use a VPN in a country, you should first determine whether it’s legal or not.
Which brings us to the next question.
Should you use VPNs despite their legality?
Well, I’ll let you answer that question for yourself. Just keep in mind that the penalties are very real for doing so. Maybe, in the end, you’re better off just submitting to a country’s authoritarian laws for a little while.
But then again, do you really want a government to have access to everything you do?
At the end of the day, the decision is yours.
Never miss a story with the daily Govtech Today Newsletter.
This content is made possible by our sponsors; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of e.Republic’s editorial staff.