Last Update: September 4th, 2016
America is the land of the free. We’re home to the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, Freedom of Speech, Freedom Fries … you get the idea. The constitution protects and enshrined our “Unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Our internet follows suit, providing uncensored and unrestricted access to the world wide web in an ethical and commendable way. But not all is always peachy, and many online dangers exist, which is why using a VPN in the United States has become so popular.
While we’d all love to believe our constitutional rights are being sufficiently protected, the Edward Snowden revelations on the NSA and others similar to it have shaken our faith on mass online surveillance of regular citizens. Now we find ourselves obligated to take steps in protecting my online privacy against unwarranted mass data collection, not only from authorities, but the world at large. These last years have been eye opening to the amount of online hacking that goes on every day. How networks containing thousands of personal files are regularly compromised. Identity theft cases have increased by as much as 50% per year in the United States alone. Although a VPN service is not enough to protect your data against all attacks, it is the first layer of security that should be added to your connected devices, be it a computer, smartphone, tablet, or business network.
If online privacy is of utmost concern for you, I suggest reading the additional information at the bottom of this article, under the top 5 US VPNs. I cover some concerns surrounding the use of VPNs for the US and whether or not you may want to choose an off-shore provider. In summary, my personal opinion is that unless you plan to commit high profile crimes or you happen to be a journalist covering sensitive topics, using a US-based VPN service is at no risk of compromising your privacy or security. Using a US-based VPN for P2P torrents remains secure from being logged. None the less, you can read more on the subject further down. Before jumping onto the top 5 best VPN services for the USA, I would like to touch base on other reasons VPN services are used in regards to the United States.
Unblocking TV, Netflix and American Websites Outside of the USA
Another popular use of VPN services is simply to unblock websites and services that would otherwise be blocked or restricted when you are outside of the United States. For example, as you may already know Netflix US has the biggest selection of TV shows and movies, while come countries have minuscule repositories in comparison. The same goes for American websites and music streaming services. News and other online content such as YouTube, Hulu, NBC, Fox, or ABC are often blocked or partially restricted to international visitors. Often referred to as geo-blocking or geo-restrictions, viewing certain content is only available in the US. In fact, you may have reached this page looking for the best VPN service to unblock US content. Regardless if you’re an American travelling abroad, an expat, or a resident of another country, using a VPN is the best way to gain access to all US websites.
The way it works is quite simple, when you connect to a VPN server, it encrypts your data, which secures it from being snooped on, but it also additionally changes your internet IP address, which is used to identify your location. By connecting to a VPN server in the United States, no matter where you are located in the world, it will make it seem as if you are in the United States, and in turn, effectively unblocks US web services and websites. Let’s finally look at the best overall VPN services for the USA.
VPN for USA – Top Picks:
ExpressVPN operates from the British Virgin Islands, qualifying them as an off-shore provider, but is often considered to be US based service. They offer a no-log service which keeps absolutely no traffic data, and ensures full anonymity through shared IP addresses. I place them as my first best USA VPN for other reasons as well. For starters, they provide the best coast to coast coverage of the United States. Servers are available in the following cities; New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Chicago, Tampa, Las Vegas, Denver, and Dallas. That’s plenty of servers to connect to US locations for either fast local service, or connecting in from anywhere in the world. Speaking of which, their global coverage spans across almost 90 countries, and 136 cities, making them one of the largest tier-1 network services in the market.
Finally, what sets them apart is performance. The service can be used for just about anything, from simply protecting your web data and privacy, to streaming video, gaming and downloading torrents or large files. Where average VPN services tend to slow down your connection quite a bit, ExpressVPN rarely disappoints, even when connecting to distant locations. The service does cost more than most, but each account can be used on 3 devices at once, and a 30-day no-fuss refund policy allows you to try it without worry.
Next up is Panama based NordVPN. This off-shore service has gained lots of traction in the last couple of years by improving and growing their network, with affordable fast service that now covers the United States with more than 300 servers. Unfortunately, they do not state the cities, but with more than 300 servers, you can easily find one with low loads (thanks to their live bandwidth monitoring) for the fastest possible speeds in no time. Additionally, they have Ultra Fast TV, Anti-DDOS, and even Dedicated IP servers for the US. The no log provider is fit for any application from streaming to downloading torrents.
Each account can be used simultaneously on up to 5 devices, adding value to their affordable packages. The yearly deal makes them very competitive, and a 30-day money back guarantee is also offered to back up their service quality promise.
If you don’t mind using a US based VPN, and/or need a cheaper cost on service, Private Internet Access is usually my top suggestion thanks to not only having extremely low prices, but also providing a decent service quality across their network. The no-log service is good enough to stream standard to high definition video, as well as P2P torrents. Although the speed does compare to be slower against bigger providers, they have over 3000 servers to ensure that they are at a minimum, very operable for the majority of user needs. In other words, you get plenty for your money. As far as US locations go, more than half their servers cover the West and East coast. Locations include California, Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle, Florida, Texas, as well as regional servers such as, East, West and US Mid-West connection points.
One package can be used on 5 devices, further adding value to their cheap prices, and a 7-day money back guarantee is offered to ensure that you are fully satisfied before committing.
A worthy mention is Hong Kong based PureVPN, which politically speaking is probably the safest place for your data. Chinese officials are not known to be very accommodating to American legal requests, and the no log service ensures solid anonymity. Financially speaking PureVPN also qualifies as a top choice with some of the lowest priced packages on the market. Their network is currently comprised of roughly 500 servers across more than 140 countries. You are allowed up to 5 simultaneous connections per account, with an improved 7-day or 3gb usage limit refund, allowing you to test risk free.
Their suite also includes DNS Security tools which allow you to mask the DNS queries originating from your ISP, as well as a dedicated streaming browser that adds a buffer to slow internet connections.
A new-comer in the scene, and another off-shore provider, Hungarian based Buffered VPN has been getting rather positive peer reviews. I am currently testing the service to complete my review, and I have been pleasantly surprised. The no log provider will keep your data secure and private, all while providing fast speeds and fully supporting P2P torrents. It is a well rounded services for just about all needs, but falls short on pricing. Their cost is comparable to ExpressVPN, placing them with the most expensive providers, but the network is much smaller and covers 36 countries in total. This is plenty for most, but you can get more for the same price if needed. United States is covered of course, but more importantly, speed loss was minimal on their service, providing the best possible rates when streaming or downloading.
Luckily, they do provide up to 5 simultaneous connections per device, and a 30-day money back guarantee, allowing you to test the service risk free.
What to Consider for USA VPNs
All of the suggested services above but one, are based off-shore. Meaning that they do not fall under US law jurisdictions. As I quickly mentioned, this is not need for most, but possibly a preference to many due to the ability that authorities have in compromising your anonymity. But if you’re only looking to unblock some services, or download some torrents, the following information may not be as concerning, albeit remaining important to public knowledge.
NSA and Mass Data Collection
In recent years, thanks to whistle-blowers such as Snowden, the press has released information regarding various government surveillance programs from all over the world. The NSA stood in the middle of controversy for the United States, and blatantly lied to the public by denying any wrong doing regarding warrant-less surveillance on millions of American citizens. Even after congress attempted to slow down their mass data collections, it did not take long for a work-around to green light even greater intrusions than ever before.
As of 2016, the NSA itself has seen its’ own share of intrusion with attacks that lead to their own hacking tools and exploits being leaked. This even confirmed Tim Cook’s worries to be true, and vindicated him for not wanting to build them a spy tool for iPhones. If the NSA itself cannot remain safe from exploits, intrusions and hacks that could lead to troves of personal data being freely distributed is not something to take lightly.
American authorities are not going to stop their mass data collection anytime soon, even if their actions are infringing on the constitutional rights of every American, and have been proven to be ineffective. VPNs have come to the rescue of personal security of every individual and corporation using the internet. By simply encrypting your data, you can effectively protect yourself from any fallout in case mass data banks get hacked. Even if your web data is collected and stored, it will remain encrypted and protected, no matter what hands it falls on. Even your internet service provider will no longer be able to see what websites you visit, or what files you download, which takes us to the next point of concern.
Copyright Trolls and Torrents
There are organizations in the US that have the sole purpose of going after individuals whom can be identified as committing copyright infringement both online and offline. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was first created in 1998, and effectively defined copyright infringement as a crime. Since than, many changes and pro-copyright initiatives have been made in the United States, and ISPs have been forced to send out take-down notices to anyone sharing copyright material through torrents for example.
VPN services can fall in the same category as ISPs, and if they keep any data logs, they are forced to send out these notices when a user IP is traced back by copyright holders. They alert the service provider that the user’s IP has downloaded or uploaded a copyright movie, or file of any kind, and the user receives a notice. Such services do not support P2P torrent usage due to having to abide to local laws.
The last thing someone wants is to be charged for copyright infringement because they forgot to delete a torrent from their list and shared it with thousands of people. Legal fees alone can cost a fortune for the middle-class, let alone settlement amounts requested by some copyright holders in Hollywood. You might also have heard of Popcorn Time, which allows you to stream movies through P2P, and how some US users ended up getting sued by a movie studio.
In theory, using a VPN should keep you safe from all these dangers if you happen to download a movie or TV show from time to time. However, you must be certain that the service does not keep any data logs whatsoever, and in doing so, can fully support P2P traffic while ensuring a good degree of anonymity. Which brings us to the next point – are US based VPN services safe? Are they required to retain any data logs?
Are US Based VPN Services Safe?
Before I delve into this topic, let me say that in general, US based VPN services are a great way for individuals to protect their data from being snooped on. Effective against mass data collection, ISP logs, and also when using public Wi-Fi connection points. Many services are also secure enough to download torrents, and you can securely and privately use services such as Popcorn Time. On the other hand, sharing a large number of torrents can be risky since it warrants more attention from copyright holders. If authorities can identify you through a VPN IP address, they can legally pursue the VPN service. Overall, for the majority of users, using a US-based VPN service is not concerning at all, and truly secure, but let’s go over the factual concerns that do exist.
As of 2016, the United States does not impose any data retention laws on service providers, and makes for a great location to operate a VPN service on first glance. But there are other laws that could force them to provide and share subscriber information through court orders from legal entities as per the Stored Communications Act. Services that do keep logs must also abide to copyright directives by sending out DMCA notices, and would also need to hand over logs if any court orders came their way. An example of a service that keeps logs is VyprVPN, and although they have a great VPN network, their 30-day log policy makes them unfriendly to any kind of copyright infringing torrent P2P file transfers.
What if the VPN company does not keep any data logs? In the United States, if authorities are able to identify a user by IP, they can legally order a VPN company to keep logs of the user’s online data, as well as subscriber files, past payments, and any other identifiable data.
An example of such a case abroad would be HMA’s Lulzsec Fiasco, when back in 2011, the UK authorities forced the provider to collect and hand over data logs after identifying one of the users as a potential hacker in the Sony case. HideMyAss defended its’ actions, but simultaneously shed light on a flaw in the system. The same service that claims to keep no logs and protect your identity ends up being legally forced to do just the opposite.
To add to the fire, surveillance agencies, mainly the NSA, have continually pressured tech giants to compromise the privacy of their users. A great example would be Lavabit, a US-based secure email service that chose to shut down, rather than handing over their encryption keys to authorities.
In summary, VPN companies clearly state that their services are not to be used to commit crimes. All US-based VPN services have excerpts in their TOS contracts or Privacy Policies about cooperating with the investigations of Law Enforcement Agencies. It usually goes something to the effect of, “Company X will never share your information with anyone! With that said, Company X is legally bound to cooperate with local Law Enforcement Agencies and provide relevant information with regards to ongoing legal case as decided by a court.”
This is why finding a service based abroad can be important to some; foreign companies fall outside the jurisdiction of local law enforcement (like the NSA) and in essence could never be forced to appear in court in our country. This renders entities like the NSA powerless and your information secure. The one exception here being if the local agency is conducting an investigation regarding an action that is also illegal in the foreign country your server is based in (ie: the FBI may be able to get access to your information if they’re investigating a high profile case). The condensed version is, if you’re in the US, pick services that aren’t. However you may also want to consider avoiding all countries in the Five Eyes alliance, since they are more likely to cooperate in sharing web data.
In Conlusion – US VPNs
In the end, using an off-shore or US of A based company for your VPN needs comes down to a matter of personal choice, or needs. Journalists all over the world often depend on VPNs to keep them safe both at home and abroad. If you truly don’t want authorities or the government to have any power to cause a VPN service to start collecting and share your private data, you would want to preferably opt for an offshore provider.
- Avoid US-Based and Five Eyes Alliance based VPN services.
- Avoid all VPN services that keep service or data logs.
- Preferably use a VPN based in a country with strong privacy laws and protection.
Additional off-shore VPN services that offer solid performance and no-log privacy policies:
On the other hand, using a local homegrown service provider is sufficient enough to keep most online activities securely encrypted, and more importantly – never logged. For every day internet usage, a local service will dependably keep you secure. From using public networks and Wi-Fi access points abroad, to using Netflix, unblocking websites, and downloading torrents, a US based service arguably fits the bill.
Additional P2P friendly, no-log US based VPN services:
I hope this article has covered the necessary information for a broad audience in regards to US VPN services. Please feel free to comment with more information below.