If you live in or travel to the United Kingdom, you might be aware of the rules in place for monitoring Internet use. Since the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act in 2016, the British police and intelligence agencies have unprecedented access to your information and online activities.
Anyone spending time in the UK has good reasons to protect themselves. Arguably the best way to do so is by using a VPN. But because VPNs are so very effective at evading online surveillance, people often wonder about the legality of their use.
Is It Legal to Use VPNs in the UK?
Short and to the point, yes, yes it is legal to use a VPN in the United Kingdom. There is not a single UK law which would forbid or prevent you from doing so. You’re well within your rights.
One little thing to be careful of, however, is which VPN provider you choose. As you can see by browsing around this site a bit, there are a lot of them. And if you happen to pick one that operates out of the UK, you should know that they still fall under the auspices of the Investigatory Powers Act.
Any VPN service based in the UK is obligated by law to provide information to the police and intelligence agencies when asked to do so, just like ISPs are. To properly protect your online privacy and anonymity, simply choose a VPN outside the UK. If you don’t feel like searching around for one, you can also find a list of recommended UK services here (all have lots of UK servers, all are out of the reach of British authorities).
And just to clarify, you can still grab a British IP address by connecting to a VPN server in the UK. That is fine. The important bit is making sure whatever VPN provider you use is based somewhere else in the world.
Why Use a VPN in the UK
Anytime you use a British ISP (be it at home, in a hotel or on your mobile), they have a legal obligation to log every website you visit and every online service you use. They keep that information for a year. During that period, some 48 UK authorities may request, without a warrant mind you, access to the ISP’s logs. In other words, they can inspect what you have been doing on the Internet whenever they please.
Police and intelligence agencies have other questionable powers too. They have the legal authority to hack into computers, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices. Once again, the can do so as they deem fit. ISPs must help them with these actions, as well as capture and decrypt data.
A VPN is the safest and easiest way to protect yourself in the UK (and indeed, anywhere else in the world). It encrypts all traffic leaving and going to your device. It also makes it appear as though that traffic is originating at the VPN server‘s location. The combination of these two features will leave your ISP, and by extension the government, in the dark.