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Are VPNs legal in the US?

Are VPNs legal in the US?
(Image credit: Vector Image Plus/Shutterstock)

VPNs, or virtual private networks, offer an additional layer of security that can help keep your information safe when using the internet. Given growing concerns over user privacy over the past decade, it’s no surprise that US VPN services are gaining popularity every year.

The United States is one of the largest markets for VPNs in the world, but potential users aren’t always sure whether the technology is legal. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the legality of using a VPN in the United States. Don’t forget to look through our guide to the best VPN services if you’re looking for more information about the top providers.

Before getting into the details, we should clarify that using a VPN in the United States is perfectly legal. You’ll never get in trouble for using VPN technology to secure your connection, and both governments and private organizations will have a harder time tracking your activity.

Netflix, for example, tries to prevent users from using a VPN to access regionally blocked content. They’re free to do so in whatever (otherwise legal) ways they see fit, but their subscribers are equally free to get around those restrictions. Netflix could never report someone to law enforcement just for using a VPN to view content that’s unavailable in the US.

However, it’s worth being aware that these VPN uses often contravene terms and conditions, so it’s well worth the time to check out any small print and weighing up the risks before you start watching unblocked content.

Just because VPNs are legal to use doesn’t mean you’re immune from the law while using a VPN. While getting around Netflix content restrictions and keeping your daily browsing private isn’t a criminal offense, there are obviously many different crimes that you could commit over the internet. A VPN won’t protect you from prosecution if you use it for something illegal.

Furthermore, while VPNs offer a significant upgrade in security compared to a direct connection, they don’t provide any kind of blanket protection from surveillance. While the content of your activity may be hidden, the government could easily see that you’re using a VPN by contacting your internet service provider.

Additionally, several VPNs that claim not to store user information have been caught providing that information in response to law enforcement requests – so we highly recommend signing up to a provider with an audited no-logs policy like ExpressVPN or NordVPN to ensure there’s nothing to hand over should this happen.

In short, VPNs are completely legal to use, but anything that would be illegal without a VPN will also be illegal with one.

Why would someone in the US want a VPN?

Along with accessing regionally restricted steaming content, VPNs have additional benefits depending on your use case. For example, if you frequently connect to the internet on public Wi-Fi hotspots, a VPN will protect your traffic from third parties who could be using the network to extract information.

Similarly, a VPN can help you get around other network-level restrictions, such as those placed on work and school networks. Some people also use VPNs to anonymously torrent files online, or just to protect their activity in general.

Congress overturned several privacy regulations on internet service providers in 2017, making it easier for them to collect data without user consent. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for American internet users to connect with a VPN.

Which VPN do we recommend for users in the US?

Tom’s Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free

ExpressVPN stands out from the competition in terms of price, features, and value. With servers in nearly 100 countries and plenty within the US, blazing connection speeds, and reliable access to multiple streaming services, ExpressVPN has everything that one would need from a VPN. 

While some users may prefer certain features of other top VPNs, it’s the best overall option for most  users – and now Tom’s Guide readers can claim three months absolutely free.