Ieva Bulatovaitė in All things VPN, Must-knows
2021, December 15 · 6 min read
A VPN promises privacy and security online – but how far does the protection go? Does it apply in all cases, even if criminal acts are committed? Can police track VPN activity when you purchase something online? What’s the role of a country where a VPN is registered?
These are fair questions to ask. Let’s discuss it.
What information could a VPN give to the police?
When it comes to handing over the information about its users, it all depends on what data a VPN provider collects.
There are three main categories of data collection:
- Usage logs. These logs include visited websites.
- Connection logs. These records include times of connection, data usage, users’ real IP address, and an IP address assigned by a VPN.
- No logs. Some VPN providers keep no logs of your VPN activity, except information needed for billing and troubleshooting. Surfshark is one of them.
We don’t know what you do online
Some VPNs claim they don’t collect any logs, but it may be a facade. That’s why it’s crucial not to overlook privacy policies. You might see things you don’t want to see there, such as intrusive data collection.
Why do some VPNs collect users’ data? More on that in the next section.
VPNs vs. data retention laws
If a country has strict data retention laws, a VPN that’s registered in that country has to keep logs regardless of what they claim on their website.
For example, if your VPN provider is under the US or the EU jurisdiction, they can’t claim to be no-logs. Let me be clear about this, most premium VPNs don’t monitor your browsing activity day-in-day-out, but they can keep connection logs, IP addresses, session information, or used bandwidth.
Surfshark VPN is legally registered in the Netherlands. The country has no data retention laws. Because of this, we’re under no obligation to store users’ data. That goes for usage and connection logs alike. We advocate for privacy and the open internet; thus, it’s important for us that our users don’t feel watched by their VPN provider.
Can police track online purchases made with a VPN?
Speaking of purchases, unless they have a reason to believe that you’re doing something illegal, the police don’t care what you buy online.
Using the Tor browser could be suspicious to your ISP and, therefore, to the police. However, you’re not going to get in trouble just because it looks a bit suspicious.
It’s important to point out that if a user is engaging in criminal activities, a VPN will not save them. Police and federal authorities alike have more methods to catch a perpetrator than asking their VPN provider for connection and usage logs.
Here at Surfshark, we do not condone illegal acts despite not keeping logs of our users’ activity. We believe that online privacy is a human right, but we draw the line if your actions harm others.
Is it legal to use a VPN?
VPN tracking takes a different meaning when it comes to countries that restrict VPN usage. In some regions, you won’t be able to download a VPN, let alone connect to it. In these cases, obfuscated servers can be very helpful. In short, they work like an invisibility cloak for a VPN, masking your VPN traffic and making it look like regular internet traffic.
Most countries have no problem with VPNs. However, a handful of governments feel the need to control their citizens’ lives in as many aspects as possible. And VPNs sometimes don’t slip through the cracks. Here is a list of countries where VPN use is illegal or restricted.
Current VPN status
The United Arab Emirates
What’s the takeaway on police tracking VPNs?
Can police track a VPN? In short, not really. But if they have a court order, they can request usage or connection logs.
Overall, being completely anonymous and untraceable online is virtually impossible. A VPN is a great tool that gives you more privacy by masking your IP address, minimizing commercial advertising, and hacking attempts. However, a VPN will not hide you from legal troubles, and it should not be used as a way to do that.
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Can VPN activity be tracked? ›
VPNs encrypt all internet traffic, effectively hiding your browsing history from your ISP. However, that doesn't mean the ISP is blind to your activities. They may be able to tell that you're connected to a VPN and for how long, based on the fact that the encrypted traffic is headed to an IP address of a VPN server.Does a VPN hide your activity from the government? ›
A VPN encrypts and conceals your entire online traffic. It hides your IP address, location, and all digital activities, including downloads, streaming, and gaming activities. A VPN hides your browsing history from your ISP, websites, online snoopers, and even the government.Can the police track a IP address? ›
So, If you're wondering if the police can track your phone numbers and IP addresses, the answer is - yes, they can. While the police cannot search your phone without a warrant, they have a legal right to watch what you do in public, on social media, and in your home and business.How do I hide my IP address from the police? ›
You can hide your IP address by either using the Tor browser, a proxy server, or a free VPN. You can also join a public Wi-Fi network.Can my history be seen if I use VPN? ›
VPNs can hide your search history and other browsing activity, like search terms, links clicked, and websites visited, as well as masking your IP address.What does a VPN not hide? ›
A VPN does not hide your browsing activity from the websites and apps you visit. Using a VPN hides your browsing activity from your ISP and WiFi administrator, but it doesn't hide that activity from the website or app you're using – they can still see exactly what you do on their service.Are VPNs really private? ›
In basic terms, a VPN provides an encrypted server and hides your IP address from corporations, government agencies and would-be hackers. A VPN protects your identity even if you are using public or shared Wi-Fi, and your data will be kept private from any prying internet eyes.What does my internet provider see when I use a VPN? ›
Can my ISP see my VPN? While using a VPN, your ISP cannot decipher the contents of your internet traffic nor can it figure out where your traffic is traveling to or from. That means your ISP cannot see what sites you visit or anything you do while connected. It can only see that encrypted data is traveling to a server.Is it illegal to use a VPN to watch sports? ›
The thing about streaming sports content by using a VPN service is that it is not illegal. Again, if you use a VPN service in order to access streaming content that is blocked, in your region you are doing nothing illegal.How long does it take for police to trace an IP address? ›
Once they have an IP, the get warrants to get everything they can from your provider. Takes a day or two. Next step is to get a warrant to come to your house and search for evidence, another day or two.
How do police find your IP? ›
But they general answer is "yes, they can". Once the IP has been logged (on one of your services such as dropbox) and transmitted to the police, the local police will be able to contact your ISP and obtain the address (with a warrant).Is an IP address enough to convict? ›
Though IP addresses alone cannot identify and convict a criminal, law enforcement can use them successfully as clues for locating and building a case against criminals. Alone, they are not enough evidence, but they can lead to the discovery of evidence and be used in conjunction with other evidence.Do police monitor Google searches? ›
While police do not actively monitor Google searches, they are able to obtain a warrant for your search history if they have probable cause to do so.Can police track you on the dark web? ›
Can police track you on the dark web? Typical web browsers reveal their unique IP (Internet Protocol) address, making them traceable by law enforcement. But a dark web browser issues a false IP address, using a series of relays, to mask the user's identity. A significant portion of dark web activity is lawful.How long can police track your phone? ›
Police can see which device IDs were found near the location of the crime. Detectives or other officers can also search the location for IDs going forward from the time of the crime and back at least 180 days, according to the company's user license agreement.How can you tell if someone is using a VPN? ›
Attempt to use Reverse DNS Lookups for checking VPN addresses. Either using websites, CLI, or scripts, you can identify if an IP address is a VPN based on looking at their hostname. With the hostname, this allows you to identify if the VPN is using a hostname that is related to a VPN provider.Why is VPN untraceable? ›
A premium quality VPN encrypts data and hides your IP address by routing your activity through a VPN server; even if someone tries to monitor your traffic, all they'll see is the VPN server's IP and complete gibberish. Beyond that, you can only be tracked with information you provide to sites or services you log into.What is the risk of using VPN? ›
Why VPN is Not Secure. VPNs are insecure because they expose entire networks to threats like malware, DDoS attacks, and spoofing attacks. Once an attacker has breached the network through a compromised device, the entire network can be brought down.Can your service provider see your incognito history with VPN? ›
Yes, they can. Unfortunately, Incognito mode doesn't hide your activity from your Wi-Fi provider. All it does is stop browsers and sites from storing cookies during that session. To make sure no one sees your online activities, use CyberGhost VPN.How do I delete my ISP history? ›
Can I delete my ISP's record of my browsing history? You can't access your ISPs records, and ISPs don't provide a way for you to delete them. You can't do anything on your device to remove your ISP's record of your online activities.
How do I stop ISP tracking? ›
- Use a VPN service. The best way to browse the internet without being tracked by your ISP is to use a Virtual Private Network. ...
- Use a Proxy server. ...
- Use a Tor network. ...
- Use HTTPS websites only.
- United Arab Emirates.
Well, not really. You can use a VPN to watch Hulu even if you reside in the US and don't need to unblock the streaming service. Here are a few extra reasons to get a VPN for Hulu: Avoid throttling.Can government track VPN users? ›
The police can find out your actual IP address if they want to or if they ask the VPN company to give it to them. However, they won't know who's been using the device. There have been a few cases where in the case of national security, VPN companies provided the police with logs of suspected child predators.Can police track your phone if location is off? ›
The answer is yes, it's possible to track mobile phones even if location services are turned off. Turning off the location service on your phone can help conceal your location.Can an IP address be traced to a physical location? ›
Your IP address gives websites, and people that you have connected with online, more than just a number—more than your IP address. It also gives them the ability to trace that IP address back towards you if they wanted to. To be clear, they can trace it back to your geographical location.Can cops trace Snapchat? ›
Our ability to disclose Snapchat account records is generally governed by the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701, et seq. The SCA mandates that we disclose certain Snapchat account records only in response to specific types of legal process, including subpoenas, court orders, and search warrants.Can you permanently change your phone IP address? ›
You can change your Android local IP address by connecting your router and adjusting the router settings for your Android device. For example, you can assign a static IP to your Android device, choose the option to re-assign the address, or remove the device and be assigned a new address.Can Gmail be traced by police? ›
Gmail can be traced using the sender's IP address, but only authorized individuals such as law enforcement or someone within the Google security team can access your information. Although your IP address can be accessed via emails you send, the information is not personally identifiable.
Is pulling an IP address illegal? ›
Is it illegal to look up someone's location through their IP address? No, there is nothing illegal about looking it up. Any IP address is available publicly, as it is used in a public network - the internet. There are various tools to check it in-depth online and that's no secret nowadays.What does IP mean on police report? ›
Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.Can I find out who owns an IP address? ›
The IP WHOIS tool is how you find out who an IP address belongs to. With the IP WHOIS results, you'll be able to find out exactly who to contact should you need to reach the owner of a given IP address. You'll also see information regarding the Internet service provider (ISP) that has been assigned to the IP address.Can police see deleted search history? ›
Can police recover deleted internet history? Yes, simply by contacting your internet service provider. They are obligated by law to store records of your online activity. The only exception is that your provider could have already deleted the data if the history is older than the data retention period.Can police see deleted Google history? ›
Can Police Recover deleted Google history? The answer is yes—by using special tools, they can find data that hasn't been overwritten yet. However, by using encryption methods, you can ensure your data is kept private, even after deletion.What can the police see when they search your phone? ›
Modern mobile phones are not just phones, they're also mini computers, cameras, calendars, recorders, diaries and albums. Once the police have access to these devices, they can learn everything about you from the videos you've been watching online to the things that made you argue with your ex partners.Can police watch you through your phone? ›
What are the Restrictions on Wiretapping? Police officers cannot listen to your private conversations on your phone if you are an ordinary citizen unless they have a wiretap order.What is illegal to look up on the internet? ›
Anything that is illegal offline is also illegal on the internet, including fraud, theft, gambling, drug trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography.Can police track Tor users? ›
There is no way to track live, encrypted VPN traffic.
Using the Tor browser could be suspicious to your ISP and, therefore, to the police. However, you're not going to get in trouble just because it looks a bit suspicious.
In fact, in most states in America, a police officer is allowed to read over your texts and peruse other personal information on your phone whenever they want. The Fourth Amendment privacy rights and protections do not apply here. Right now, police officers can apprehend you for small crimes.
Can police read text messages that have been deleted? ›
Can Police Read Text Messages That Have Been Deleted? Deleted text messages are usually retrievable from a phone, but before beginning the process, law enforcement officers would need to obtain a court order.Can my employer track my location through VPN? ›
Absolutely. In fact, whether you're on VPN or not, they can and should EASILY be able to see your location just from an authentication standpoint into email and/or other cloud based services.Can someone see my browsing history from another computer? ›
Yes, they can.
It is best to use security tools: VPNs, HTTPS proxies, and the Tor browser to keep your searches private from them.
Does a VPN hide your browsing history from your router? Yes, using a VPN encrypts your traffic before it passes through your Wi-Fi router, so the owner of the Wi-Fi network will not be able to inspect your traffic to see your browsing history.Can browsing history be deleted permanently? ›
To securely and permanently remove your browsing history, you need to use a privacy software. These tools are designed to seek out and overwrite the confidential information contained in your history files with random characters so even if the files are restored, the original information is gone from them.Who is tracking my internet activity? ›
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can see everything you do online. They can track things like which websites you visit, how long you spend on them, the content you watch, the device you're using, and your geographic location.Does VPN really hide your location? ›
Then these apps track you everywhere you go or visit. But if you turn off GPS tracking and use a VPN, they won't be able to track you even on public Wi-Fi hotspots. That's something that Google can do by triangulating the location of Android users connected to the hotspot in the past while using GPS.Who can see my VPN? ›
Can my ISP see my VPN? While using a VPN, your ISP cannot decipher the contents of your internet traffic nor can it figure out where your traffic is traveling to or from. That means your ISP cannot see what sites you visit or anything you do while connected. It can only see that encrypted data is traveling to a server.