With oppressive governments comes censorship in many forms and the Internet, an open field when it comes to free access to information, is one of the first and most important targets in such situations.
While people in most countries enjoy the Internet exactly as they want, free to pursue whatever they want and access whatever content they desire, residents in some countries are not so lucky.
In these cases, and especially when the government is competent enough to implement restrictions on Internet usage and has the resources to do so on a wide scale, VPNs also come under fire.
VPNs are actually legal in most countries
No matter what you might have heard, you should know that VPNs are not illegal in the vast majority of the world. This is not just true for developed countries but also for much of the developing world.
The unfortunate truth is that in some countries, the only reason why VPN seems to be legal is because the government there does not yet have the technical expertise or infrastructure to enforce a ban on such services.
Regardless, there are only a few countries in the world where VPNs are illegal. And even in those cases, VPNs are not treated the same way in every country.
So let’s take a look at all of them individually.
First of all, business and personal use always have different rules
In every country of the world, even in China with its incredibly strict Internet laws, using a VPN in a business setting is very much legal and allowed. Stricter rules do exist and there is more regulation than usual but if your business requires a VPN to operate, then it will not be an issue.
The issue in all of these countries concerns personal use. When individuals use VPNs in countries where it is illegal, the government believes they must be doing something suspicious, which is why they placed a ban on them in the first place.
The so-called “Great Firewall of China” is perhaps the most famous example of Internet censorship worldwide. The Chinese government is not too keen on citizens visiting certain foreign websites. It’s also not fond of people criticizing them, which means that many political websites are blocked.
Sometime during late 2012, several VPNs understood that the Great Firewall of China had also started blocking their services. Since then, the Chinese government has doubled down on its VPN blocking, even going as far as to jail a 26-year old man who was selling VPNs!
As you can see, oppression on the Internet is widespread here and things are only going to get worse. In fact, the government has issued clear instructions to all ISPs in China, effectively forcing them to block use of VPNs for personal use by February 2018.
Another government which enforces very heavy Internet censorship. Things in Iran are a bit more complicated than usual, however, as VPNs are technically legal. However, the only legal VPNs are the ones approved by the Iranian government.
As you might have already guessed, those VPNs are spied upon by the government and freely give private data for regular inspections.
To make it even simpler, any VPN which is not sanctioned by the government itself is illegal and is blocked in Iran.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Recently, many news organizations reported that the UAE government decided to make VPNs illegal. The truth, however, is more complex than that.
According to the official sources, people are free to use VPNs and they will not be prosecuted for doing so. Furthermore, VPNs are not actually blocked, which means that they can be used.
It is only when VPNs are used for illegal purposes that people would be actively prosecuted, according to the government. And as it happens in China, anyone convicted of this would not only have to pay a considerable fine but also serve jail time.
Of course, the UAE government does block a huge number of websites so there is quite a lot of Internet censorship. Accessing some of them might be considered an illegal act so you must be extremely careful.
Check out our own article here on the best VPNs to use in the UAE.
In another case of news reporting somewhat inaccurate information, VPNs are not actually illegal in Russia, though their use is very much restricted.
To be more precise, it is illegal to use VPNs to access websites blocked by the Russian government. Of course, since many people would have used a VPN for this exact reason, it defeats the purpose of using a VPN for many potential users.
In other words, it is legal to use a VPN to access legal sites, which might be worth it for some users who just want to protect their security in certain situations, such as when using public Wi-Fi.
VPNs are not illegal in India and you will not find any reference of them being against the law. One important aspect that is cleverly left out, however, is that if anyone in law enforcement orders you to give them your login credentials, you will have to comply or face years in jail.
So while you are technically free to use VPNs, you have to be very careful when doing so.
Since the uprising in 2011, VPNs have been actively blocked by the Syrian government. All VPNs are blocked as the government specifically targets the protocols used by VPN services such as OpenVPN and PPTP.
Using the Internet in Syria is a double-edged sword. The government does not permit access to most political websites, especially if they are critical of them, and accessing them is strictly illegal and can end in jail time.
The government of Turkey has been placing increasingly stricter controls on Internet usage for years. There have been countless incidents of the government blocking access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, for instance, and in May 2017 they even blocked access to Wikipedia. In fact, as of 21 November 2017, the ban on Wikipedia is still active.
In 2016, the turkish government also decided to ban both VPNs and Tor. While it has not exactly made VPNs illegal, most popular VPNs are automatically blocked in the country.
So while you may not always get into trouble for using a VPN in Turkey, you might find that most services cannot actually be used.
As a country with one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, it is no surprise to anyone that North Korea bans VPNs. Of course, things are very complex when it comes to this country because real Internet access is limited to a select few people.
Everyone else in North Korea can only access a very restricted version of the Internet which basically hosts a couple of thousand websites, all of which are pre-approved by the government.
While VPNs are not technically illegal in Saudi Arabia, the government, like Turkey, blocks access to the vast majority of them. Since the Internet is very much controlled by official bodies, anything you do online comes under heavy scrutiny.
For instance, while social media is not blocked, you will still be prosecuted if you post anything that is not compliant with the law or that goes against the current government.
VPNs are also blocked in Belarus, Oman, and Turkmenistan
In all three of these countries, the government simply blocks access to VPNs. The law is very unclear on whether it’s okay to use them or not, possibly because their government believes that argument is invalid as they simply block VPN access on the spot.
If you would like to know more about VPN use in specific country or would like to offer your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below!