The Indian government applies harsh censorship to the internet, forcing ISPs to block certain social media apps, pornography, copyrighted file sharing, and political content.
If you live in India or will be traveling to the country, a VPN is a solution to get around restrictions.
Is VPN legal in India?
Yes, using a VPN is legal in India. However, unlike most countries, VPN providers and ISPs in India have to collect user data. This is part of the Information Technology Act.
Does this mean the police or other authorities can track your VPN usage? Not exactly – here’s what you need to know.
Can the police track VPN usage in India?
No, the police in India don’t have the technology to track your live internet activity. That is, if your VPN is able to encrypt it properly. If that’s the case, they’d need to crack the encryption, which even militaries and intelligence agencies can’t do.
On the other hand, India requires all internet services, which include VPN providers, to collect data and make logs on its users.
As part of an investigation, the police can order your VPN provider and ISP to hand over this data. However, it’s rare to get to this stage unless you’re accessing or creating highly illegal content.
For example, a user who doesn’t have a public presence and doesn’t commit crimes is not going to be on the police radar for using a VPN to access TikTok.
Furthermore, if you use a VPN provider located outside of India with a strict no-logs policy, there’s no data to be shared!
What is the punishment for using a VPN in India?
There’s no punishment for using a VPN in India unless you use it to carry out other illicit activity. Even accessing banned apps or sites is not itself a crime.
For the most part, the law targets the creators and sharers of illegal content, as well as internet providers that don’t actively block it.
At one time, social media posts that were deemed grossly offensive, criminal harassment, or misleading, did carry up to 3 years in prison. However, the Supreme Court reversed this in 2015, following a series of arrests.
In 2023, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules were in the headlines again. This time, due to a proposed increase in censorship.
Yet this still only affects large tech firms and publishers, not individuals using VPNs to access content.
Can you get caught for using a VPN in India?
It’s technically possible to discover if someone is using a VPN. But this is not a priority to the police unless it’s relevant to a crime or the concealment of one.
Let’s say, you’re under suspicion of criminal activity online. In this case, the authorities can order an Indian VPN provider to hand over logs that reveal your billing data and real IP address.
But if you purchased a VPN service based in another country with a no-logs policy, there isn’t much Indian police can do.
Similarly, they can order your ISP to hand over data too. Since it won’t actually contain your browsing history (if the VPN worked), this itself is a sign that you’ve been using a VPN. Otherwise, the ISP would be able to provide more information.
Essentially, the ISP will know when you’ve been online, how long the session was, and other similar data. However, they won’t be able to identify the pages you’ve visited and any other sources of traffic.
They may also have the IP address of the VPN server, which they could trace back to the provider.
However, it’s important to understand that using a VPN is not a crime. And police don’t investigate people for using one.
It’s also worth noting that while a VPN can hide your real-time internet activity, as well as the contents of traffic from your ISP, there are other ways to identify someone’s online activity.
For example, if somebody logged into a social media account at X time of day with a nickname and posted something illegal, police still might be able to discover that the post is tied to a VPN server IP address.
If your ISP logs you online using that IP address at the same time, a case against you starts to form.
So, can the police track VPN usage in India? No, not directly because encryption conceals your activity. And it’s also not a crime to use a VPN.
However, if you’re suspected of a crime, there are ways to compel Indian VPN providers and ISPs to hand over any data they have, which could help build a case along with other evidence.
If you simply use a VPN to access banned apps and sites and aren’t a creator or sharer of banned content, you’re very unlikely to fall onto the police’s radar.
Because of data collection laws, you should never use a VPN service that is based and registered in India.