You have probably heard about the Five Eyes, the international spying alliance that is considered as one of the biggest threats to privacy in the world. Formed by Australia, United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, this powerful group is able to collect and exchange information about its citizens. This alliance focuses on English speaking countries, but through extended collaboration, their powers are increased. We also have the Nine Eyes alliances, which includes all the ones we previously mentioned plus France, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. Then we have the Fourteen Eyes, which comprises all the countries in the Nine Eyes alliance, plus Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium. One of the main reasons to use a VPN service is to protect privacy, so it is important that you choose a provider that is not based in a country that is a member of these alliances. Let’s take a look at the most important aspects that you need to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a VPN, based on the company jurisdiction, the location which the provider is based on, as well as the location of its network if servers.
The jurisdiction of a VPN determines the laws and regulations that the provider is subject to. In the majority of countries, using a VPN is legal, but you need to be aware of the level of control that the government has over your VPN.
The location of the VPN is the place in which the VPN provider is based as a business. This may not be the same location where they have their network of servers. It is also important to check the situation regarding data retention and privacy in the country in which the VPN is located. In some cases, it is advisable that you select a VPN that is based outside your own location.
The place where the VPN has set up its servers should also be kept in mind. As previously mentioned, this may no be the same location where they operate from. Usually VPNs have servers in multiple locations and users can select between them to enjoy a more varied experience.
In order to help you to choose a service and understand the situation for VPNs around the world, we have prepared a list of countries with information about the legality of VPN services in that location and some VPN services that are based there. You will also find out if a particular country is part of the Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes.
VPNs are legal in Australia. The problem is that the country is part of the Five Eyes Alliance. This means that the information that goes through VPN servers in that country, can be subject to surveillance and shared with other members of the alliance. Some VPNs in that location are VPNSecure.Me and Celo VPN.
British Virgin Islands
In the British Virgin Islands, VPNs are legal. Although the country is considered an overseas territory of the UK, the British Virgin Islands is an independent nation with its own laws and it is not a member of any of the surveillance alliances we have mentioned. There are no mandatory data retention laws. One of the most popular and reliable VPN providers in the industry, ExpressVPN, is based in the British Virgin Islands.
VPNs are legal in Bulgaria and the country is not a member of the Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes. While freedom of speech and of the press, as well as the right to privacy are protected under the law, it is believed that the government monitors people internet usage. The internet is not subject to restrictions, but the authorities could legally request data from VPN users’ in case of criminal activity and terrorism. VPNArea is a provider that is based in Bulgaria, although it also operates from Switzerland.
You can use a VPN legally in Canada. However, the country is part of the Five Eyes and although it offers freedom to its citizens, there are strict regulations on data retention. Online surveillance also exists in the country and ISPs use filters to block certain websites that may contain illegal content. Government agencies can request data from providers and share it with other members of the alliances they are members of. There are multiple VPNs based in Canada including TunnelBear, BTGuard and WindScribe.
The Cayman islands is also a British territory, but it enjoys autonomy and its own set of laws and policies. Its legal framework protects privacy and VPNs can be used legally. Plus, the country is not part of any surveillance alliance. FastestVPN is a provider based in that location.
China is known for imposing heavy censorship on the internet and while it is not a member of the Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes, the government has strict control over communications. Since VPNs can be used to overcome online restrictions and keep online activities concealed, the Chinese government has implemented regulations on them. Most VPNs are banned and only those who have been approved by the government are available. The penalties for operating and using unapproved VPNs include hefty fines. Although there are some Chinese VPNs that are still operating, the best option is to use a VPN that is based elsewhere, but in any case, you must be cautious and look for a reliable service that can evade the blocks.
Czechia is one of the safest and freest countries in Central Europe. Freedom of speech and privacy are respected, although there are laws against content that promotes hate or that denies the holocaust. There are no strict restrictions on the internet, although in recent years, the government has tried to get more control over online activities based on security concerns. VPNs are legal and one of the VPNs based there is Avast Secureline.
Denmark is part of the Nine Eyes and while there are not strict restrictions on the internet, the laws allow the government to prevent access to certain categories of content. There are thousands of websites censored due to illegal content, including those that facilitate online piracy. As a member of the Nine Eyes, Denmark shares data with other countries that are part of the alliance. VPNs are legal.
VPNs are legal in Finland and the country is not part of any of the Eyes spying alliances. The country has a strong social and economical infrastructure and citizens enjoy freedom of speech and to access content. However, there are filters in place to prevent access to some malicious websites. The problem is that the filters have affected some websites that don’t offer inappropriate or illegal content. F-Secure Freedome is a VPN based in Finland.
As a member of the Fourteen Eyes, Germany collects and shares data with the other nations that are part of this alliance. Still, the country defends the right to privacy and it provides unrestricted access to most of the internet. The downside is like in other places, access to certain websites is restricted and in many cases, the criteria used has affected websites that are not illegal or offensive. Besides, in recent years due to fears over national security, the government has pushed to extend its control over the internet and it aims to monitor social media websites. Zenmate and Avira Phantom are providers based in Germany.
Gibraltar is also an autonomous British overseas territory, but the powers of the UK in the nation are greater than in the likes of the British Virgin Islands. British authorities can in certain cases, monitor people in Gibraltar. VPNs are legal and the country is not part of surveillance alliances. Buffered and IVPN are based in Gibraltar.
VPNs are legal in Hong Kong and the country is not a member of the Eyes. Freedom of expression and the right to privacy are protected. Unlike people in China who face heavy restrictions, internet users in Hong Kong are able to access a great deal of content. That being said, online monitoring is also an issue in Hong Kong and China has tried to intervene there. VPNs are legal and there are multiple providers based there including PureVPN and Black VPN.
VPNs are legal in Israel and citizens are able to access most websites without issues. However, there are blocks implemented over certain content. Hola VPN is a popular VPN and it is based in Israel. The country is not part of the Eyes alliances.
In Italy, freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, but several websites have been censored over the years due to different reasons. The government seeks to extend its control over the internet with measures that seek to fight against terrorism, but that can also affect online privacy and freedom to access content. AirVPN is based in Italy and it is a provider known for its commitment to protect users’ privacy.
VPNs can be used legally in Japan and the country protects freedom of speech. While there are not strict government measures to restrict access to online content, ISPs apply filters to prevent access to websites with questionable material. VPN Gate is a project from the University of Tsukuba, in Japan. The country is not part of the Five, Nine or Fourteen Eyes.
Critics of the government face harsh penalties in Malaysia and there are restrictions applied on certain content. In addition, the government is believed to monitor its citizens. It is not a member of the surveillance alliances and one of the VPNs available there is HideMe VPN.
VPNs are legal in Netherlands and people enjoy online freedom for the most part, yet the country is a member of the Nine Eyes. Still some websites, including The Pirate Bay have been blocked. Goose VPN is based in this country.
Norway is also a member of the Nine Eyes, but it offers freedom to access content and to express views. Most people in Norway have access to the internet and there are no major restrictions. OperaVPN is the main VPN service based in Norway.
Panama is not a member of the Eyes and it offers freedom of expression, as well as unrestricted access to online content. There are a few exceptions, but overall, people can access most websites without issues. The downside is that there are concerns about possible government monitoring, particularly when it comes to politicians and journalists. NordVPN is one of the most secure providers in the industry and it is based in Panama. VPNs are legal.
Romania is not part of the spying alliances and data retention was declared unconstitutional. Some websites that feature illegal content have been blocked, but overall people can access content freely. The main exception is for gambling websites as there are rules that dictate that they must have a license to operate in the country. VPNs can be used legally. CyberGhost and IbVPN are based in Romania.
Russia is not part of the spying alliances, but it is known for filtering content and imposing strict rules over certain content. While in most cases, the blacklists address illegal content, there are also popular websites such as LinkedIn, affected by the restrictions. Only VPNs that have been approved by the government can be used in Russia. Kapersky Secure Connection is a VPN based in this country.
Sweden is part of the Nine Eyes and although the country respects the right to privacy and online freedom, in case of suspicion of criminal activity, government agencies can obtain permission to monitor internet users. Most websites can be accessed freely, with the notable exception of The Pirate Bay. VPNs are legal and the list of provides based in Sweden includes Mullvad and PrivateVPN.
You can use VPNs legally in Switzerland and in fact, highly secure VPNs like ProtonVPN and VyprVPN are based there. The country is not a member of any of the spying alliances we have mentioned and overall, freedom of speech and freedom to access information are respected. While the government doesn’t engage in mass surveillance of its citizens’ online activities, the situation may change since a high percentage of people voted in favor of allowing the government to monitor internet activities to protect national security.
The United Kingdom is not only a member of the Eyes spying alliances, it helped to establish them. While the UK is considered as free, there are some restrictions in place. ISPs have to block certain websites to comply with regulations. In addition, online surveillance is extensive, which is not a surprise considering that the country is home to the GCHQ, one of the major enemies to privacy. While VPNs are legal, there have been reports of some services being blocked. SaferVPN and HideMyAss are based in the UK.
Like the UK, the United States is a founding member of the spying alliances. The country is meant to be a beacon of freedom, but the regulations and monitoring of online activities that are in place, have raised concern among those who value privacy. The government doesn’t impose restrictions, but reports indicate that ISPs are closely watched. The NSA, another of the agencies known for its intrusive monitoring programs, is based in the US. VPNs are legal and there is an extensive list of providers that operate from the United States including IPVanish, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access and StrongVPN.