Is VPN Illegal in Certain Countries?

Today, a handful of governments have taken steps to regulate or even prohibit the use of virtual private networks (VPNs). These countries include Belarus, China, Iraq, North Korea, Oman, Russia and the United States. Other countries have implemented internet censorship laws, making the use of a VPN a risky endeavor. In Belarus, Iraq, North Korea and Turkmenistan, VPNs are illegal.

The use of VPN services is heavily restricted in China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. More sophisticated tools such as deep packet inspection can identify VPN protocols in packet metadata, allowing countries like China to find and block VPN servers in an automated and specific way. Countries that are not concerned about the economic impact of general internet censorship, such as North Korea, have simply blocked access to all foreign IP addresses. Countries where there are laws that strongly prohibit the use of VPNs are listed in Countries where VPNs are illegal.

China is perhaps the farthest country from banning and blocking VPNs and Tor than any other country. Any VPN service must have a license from the Chinese government. Those that are not licensed will be closed if they are in the country or will be blocked if they are based in a foreign country. China is one of the few countries in the world that has full control of all local internet service providers and they use deep packet inspection to monitor internet traffic entering and leaving the Chinese cybersphere.

This allows them to generally identify and block VPN traffic. In trying to deal with the online presence of ISIS, the Iraqi government has gone to extreme measures by not only banning VPN services and social media but also instituting ongoing internet blackouts across the country. Although the country is no longer besieged by ISIS, its draconian internet restrictions are still in place. Even before invading Ukraine, Russia had taken strong legal action to control freedom of expression and access to information both within its borders and online. Since the beginning of the ongoing war in Ukraine, the Russian government has tried to block access to all international news and social networks that have criticized the war or presented evidence that counteracts the government's national disinformation campaign. This caused a massive increase in demand for VPN services that could overcome these censorship blocks, prompting the Russian government to do everything possible to block VPN services themselves. ProtonVPN is committed to fighting for the right of Russian citizens to access the Internet without censorship and so far has largely succeeded in evading efforts to block our service in Russia.

This is a difficult and constantly evolving situation but we will continue to address the needs of our Proton community in Russia. Turkmenistan is one of the worst countries in the world for internet freedom. There is a total ban on VPNs in this country with reports that citizens are required to swear by the Quran that they won't use any before they can have an Internet connection installed. There have also been reports that authorities in Turkmenistan will detain people on the street and search their smartphones to make sure they don't have a VPN installed on their device. The punishment for using a VPN in these countries can range from a small fine to losing internet access or even going to jail. Using a VPN in Turkmenistan may result in an unspecified fine and an intimidating order from the Ministry of National Security to hold a “preventive conversation”.North Koreans aren't allowed to access foreign media so it's no surprise that VPNs are illegal. Using a VPN is legal in most parts of the world however your activity while using it is still subject to the laws of your own country.

Deep packet inspection (DPI) can quickly identify content within a VPN-protected data stream based on preset indicators. VPNs are just one of many tools that digital rights activists have at their disposal to try to get their fellow citizens to see their own governments and their activities in the light of day and they are constantly fighting to ensure that information flows freely to anyone who wants it. The situation really depends on each country however there are usually alternative ways for users to connect to a VPN even if it's blocked. Using a VPN connection in Turkey can also identify you as a person of interest to law enforcement. Yes UK residents are free to use VPNs though just like in the US you should monitor jurisdiction when using one. Using a VPN can also violate terms of service for websites or apps you unblock from abroad. The government justifies this by claiming that VPNs help users access illegal content (at least illegal in UAE). Unfortunately (or perhaps thankfully) Uganda lacks means to fully impose a VPN block so many users are still using them there. These governments don't want their citizens using a VPN for watching pornography or certain TV shows or movies since using one can basically circumvent these prohibitions so they've declared it illegal for anyone except government-approved service providers.

Coral Robertson
Coral Robertson

Unapologetic entrepreneur. Lifelong pop culture maven. Incurable coffee expert. Infuriatingly humble tv evangelist. General beer guru. Certified music practitioner.

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