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Are VPNs legal?

Good luck finding a case where someone was brought to justice for using a VPN

There’s a quick answer to the question “Are VPNs legal?” It’s yes. Absolutely. But that’s in the same way that hammers are legal. Use them to bang in a nail and you won’t have a problem; use them to cause someone grievous bodily harm and you’re going to jail.

What is a VPN anyway?

VPN stands for virtual private network. Think of it as a tunnel that burrows its way from your computer to, well, wherever you want it to be. That could be an office network or the other side of the world.

It’s popular for businesses because it gives the same level of security to the person using it as if they were sitting in the office.

What are the downsides of VPNs?

There are two main problems with VPNs. The first is speed, or lack of. Connect via a VPN and you’ll get slower download speeds than normal.

The second problem – although not always – is cost. You can actually get a VPN for free; for example, if you download the Opera browser.

But if you want full control of your VPN (for instance, you want to pretend you’re in the UK when you’re actually on a trip to the US) then you’ll need to pay.

So when is it illegal to use a VPN?

Technically, it’s only illegal to use a VPN if what you’re doing would be illegal anyway. For example, hacking into a government’s classified network is never going to end well. But browsing the regular internet? No problem.

What you may find, however, is that you’re breaching the terms and conditions of an agreement you signed if you use a VPN. For instance, if you want to watch US Netflix shows in the UK then the company could terminate your contract.

However, its preferred way of working is to block VPN services. Even if you choose one and find you can watch American Netflix on a Monday, by Tuesday Netflix may have blocked it. Seems petty to me, but there you go.

I should also emphasise that I’m talking about VPN usage in the UK. If you’re reading this in Belarus, China, Iraq, North Korea, Russia or Turkey then using a VPN is illegal.

What about watching BBC iPlayer abroad?

The BBC is categorical about streaming and downloading BBC iPlayer programmes when you’re abroad: you can’t. Although you can download them when you’re in the UK, then watch them when you’re abroad.

Fortunately, it’s a bit easier to fool the BBC iPlayer than it is Netflix, so you should be able to stream and download BBC iPlayer programmes if you’re cooped up in a US hotel room but using a VPN.

READ NEXT: How can I use public Wi-Fi safely?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email

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