In case you still don’t know, virtual private network (VPN) use in the United Kingdom is completely legal. It is a good idea for you to use one if you value your online privacy. A year before the United States government essentially removed most of their citizen’s rights to online privacy, U.K. laws already had the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016, otherwise known as the Snooper’s Charter. As its name suggests, this Act gives law enforcers in the U.K. the green light to collect and pore through the records of online activities and private communications of their citizens even without their consent. The Snooper’s Charter essentially makes it legal and easier for British law enforcement agencies to conduct electronic surveillance on its citizens.
U.K. Online Privacy Laws
In November 2016, the U.K. Parliament and the Queen (through Royal Assent) approved the Investigatory Powers Act. This law has made online privacy unavailable for its citizens. Even before the enactment of this law, U.K. authorities already had the power to conduct electronic spying on its citizens. This act merely gave the authorities more control and authority to do so.
The following are among the most notable provisions in the Act that dealt painful blows to online privacy:
- U.K. law enforcement and intelligence agencies can intercept communications and collect internet browsing data in bulk.
- Internet service providers in the United Kingdom are required by this law to store their subscriber’s internet browsing history and records of online activities for one year. This data should be available at the behest of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
- The authorities and intelligence agents can access the records of online activities of U.K. citizens even without a warrant.
- Law enforcement and intelligence agencies can hack into computers and other devices of U.K. citizens to collect data as long as they deem it necessary for national security.
- No internet service providers in the U.K. are allowed to disclose any information to its clients regarding any investigations into their online activities.
While it is true that there exists a strong opposition against the Snooper’s Charter, this law is still very much in effect. Those who oppose the Act may seem to be gaining some headway to repeal it. However, proponents of the Snooper’s Charter are working as hard to ensure that the law stays in place.
If you are one of the remaining few who just learned about the Snooper’s Charter, you have every reason to be worried. Even some of those who know about this law are still unsure if they can ever regain some semblance of online privacy. Even with the existing law, however, there is one very effective way of hiding your online activities, and this is by using a VPN. VPNs can prevent the authorities from tracing and intercepting your online activities effectively.
Virtual Private Networks
A VPN is a term used to refer to a connection between your device and a VPN server. Once you connect to a VPN server, your internet browsing, communications and other online activities will be coursed through the server. Your internet service provider (ISP) may be able to log your connection to the VPN server, but not your other activities that you were able to accomplish via the server. VPN servers essentially serve as relay stations between your computer and the internet.
Whenever you browse the internet, your computer sends out a request to a server that hosts a website. For example, if you want to browse Facebook, your device will send a request to the server hosting Facebook. Upon receiving the request, the server will send the page that you requested back to your device. In the case of VPNs, you channel your request via the VPN, which will then send your request to the target website host. The host will send the page back to the VPN that, in turn, will send the page back to you.
More than serve as a sort of relay station, VPNs also help make you anonymous and keep your online activities private and secure:
- Security protocol: Once you connect to a VPN, it activates a security protocol that encapsulates the connection between your device and the VPN server. The server creates some sort of a digital tunnel that connects your computer to it. Among the different types of security protocol that VPNs offer include the point-to-point tunneling protocol (PTPP), secure socket tunneling protocol (SSTP) and OpenVPN. This tunnel makes it harder for hackers to intercept any data that passes through it.
- Data encryption: Apart from the virtual tunnel that is immediately activated once you connect to a VPN, the VPN server will encrypt the code that passes through the tunnel. Prying eyes not only have to contend with the virtual tunnel, but they will also have to decipher the encrypted data that is passing through it. Encryption is the most important feature of VPNs.
- Number of servers: VPNs can have several servers that are in different locations around the world. The availability of servers in various geographical locations gives you the option of accessing geographically restricted websites.
Aside from giving you anonymity and making your online activities private, there are other advantages to using virtual private networks.
- Accessing geo-restricted websites: Some websites, particularly video streaming services, sometimes restrict their videos to certain countries and block users from other countries. By using a VPN in a location where the videos are streamed, you’ll be able to access them easily.
- Get discounts: If you are booking a hotel room or a seat on a flight, you can take advantage of regional promos that are sometimes offered by booking services. Booking fees may vary depending on location. You can try out different VPN locations to land the best deal for your budget.
- Torrenting: Downloading copyrighted materials is illegal, which is why some ISPs block torrent sites and sometimes go as far as throttling down peer-to-peer connections. Channeling your torrents via a VPN prevents your ISP from detecting your connection to a torrent site.
Is VPN Usage Legal in the U.K.?
Despite the far-reaching powers given by the Snooper’s Charter to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, there is no law that says using a VPN is illegal. It is important to keep in mind that you still need to exercise caution when choosing a VPN service provider. While your ISP may not be able to log your online activities, the VPN can and may still divulge such information to authorities when pressed. Choose a VPN that do not keep logs of their clients’ online activities.