You are being watched. The government has a secret system – a machine, that spies on you every hour of every day.” – Person of Interest
I used to love the show Person of Interest. It may seem a little far-fetched sometimes, but it helps illustrate why I won’t even consider using a US VPN service and neither should you.
Is the government interested in you?
It you haven’t seen it before, the basic premise of the show is that after 9/11, the US government created a machine to monitor people and detect acts of terror. They deemed individual crimes to be irrelevant. It’s creator, unlike the government, actually had a conscience and used it to help people who couldn’t help themselves.
What does this have to do with VPN’s?
Before I get into that, this is the second post in my series on Android VPN services. If you haven’t read the first article, go check it out now. It’ll go over some basic ground information and tell you a bit about my perspective. That way you’ll know where I’m coming from.
Most people start looking at VPN’s for privacy reasons. That’s not me, though. I’m not concerned about government overreach or keeping the my online activities hidden. To recap, the main reason I use a VPN is to get around geo-blocking of content. In simple terms, geo-blocking is when content, like a TV show, is unavailable to watch in your country, but available for other countries.
Even though privacy isn’t at the top of my mind, I won’t even consider using a US based VPN. The same is true for over a dozen countries right away, including the UK, France, and even Canada.
In fact, you couldn’t pay me to use one of their VPN services.
Why? Keep reading and I’ll tell you.
Surveillance goes global: The Fourteen Eyes
Back in 1946, just after World War II, the United States got together with the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and signed an agreement. Fearful of the new world order that they suddenly found themselves in, they agreed to share intelligence information with each other.
What this means is that each of these countries has pre-existing deals with each other to hand over data that they are collecting….data on threats, foreign and domestic. Computers and bank accounts in their jurisdiction are subject to search or seizure.
In my opinion, if the laws of these countries make it legal to search through the private data of it’s citizens in the name of national security, that is a good reason to keep my private data someplace else. Remember, it’s critical to look at where the company’s servers are located, not just where the company is based out of.
I would avoid VPN’s based in the following countries:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Why not a US based VPN?
Let’s talk specifically about the United States.
In the United States, we’ve seen a lot of legal cases over the past few years where the federal government tries to strong-arm tech companies into giving up their customer records. Sometimes it is for the right reasons. Apple was recently subpoenaed to unlock a mass-shooter’s iPhone. Google was similarly forced to help unlock Android phones. Not wanting leave them out, the government ordered Microsoft to provide private data about one of their enterprise level customers.
The point of that is to show that Apple, Microsoft and Google were only able to resist because they are global companies with A LOT of cash and power. But in each of those cases, it was a hard fought victory against the federal government.
What does this have to do with VPN’s?
If you’re considering a US based VPN, ask yourself this question: If the big companies have trouble resisting government, how is your small VPN company going to do it?
The simple fact is that people who are concerned about keeping the government out of their business, should keep their business as far away from the government as possible. Like…in another country.
That is why I won’t use a US based VPN.
But my VPN has a warrant Canary!
Somebody, somewhere is going to bring up warrant canaries, so I’m going to tell you just how useless I think they are.
In the old days, coal miners used to carry around a little canary in a cage with them into the mine. The bird would no so happily chirp away. Birds don’t like being underground after all. When the air quality turned toxic, the canary would be the first casualty. When it stopped chirping, the miners knew to get out.
Sites use a similar concept to warn against subpoenas and gag orders from the FBI. They’ll post an image like the one below on their site, but remove it if they have been contacted by a government agency.
Sites like Canarywatch.org maintain a list of active warrant canaries. Although, scanning through the list, some of the warrants haven’t been maintained in the past year. UPDATE: Canarywatch.org has announced that the list is no longer being maintained, which actually helps make my point below.
Here’s the problem: Warrant canaries rely on the user (you and me) to “watch very closely” to make sure that they haven’t disappeared.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got too much to worry about without checking every day to see if an image disappears. The original miner’s canary sounded a call that miners could hear. The online version requires everyone to actively watch for it’s signal.
I would rather just avoid the problem.
List of VPN servers to avoid
I’ve included a list of the Five, Nine and Fourteen eyes countries below, and some of the VPN companies that call them home. The list comes from a site called That One Privacy Site. It’s been a great resource in getting me up to speed on VPN’s. I recommend you check it out. Just be sure to come back here, ok?
- VPNSecure (Australia)
- GetFlix (Canada)
- PirateParty.ca (Canada)
- SurfEasy (Canada)
- TunnelBear (Canada)
- UnoTelly (Canada)
- VPNGhost (Canada)
- HideMyAss (UK)
- My Expat Network (UK)
- OverPlay (UK)
- TorVPN (UK)
- TotalVPN (UK)
- VPN.sh (UK)
- WorldVPN (UK)
- Anonymizer (USA)
- BTGuard (USA)
- CryptoHippie (USA)
- Hide My IP (USA)
- HideIPVPN (USA)
- Hotspot Shield (USA)
- IncognitoVPN (USA)
- IPVanish (USA)
- LibertyVPN (USA)
- LiquidVPN (USA)
- MyIP.io (USA)
- MyVPN.Pro (USA)
- OctaneVPN (USA)
- Private Internet Access (USA)
- PrivateTunnel (USA)
- SlickVPN (USA)
- StrongVPN (USA)
- SuperVPN (USA)
- Torguard (USA)
- Tunnelr (USA)
- Unseen Online (USA)
- Unspyable (USA)
- VPNMe (USA)
- GoVPN (Germany)
- Steganos (Germany)
- AirVPN (Italy)
- PrivateVPN (Sweden)
- VPNTunnel (Sweden)
- Unlocator (Denmark)
- ActiVPN (France)
- VPN4All (Netherlands)
Let me say that this is not an exhaustive list of VPN’s, and simply choosing a VPN service that’s not on that list above won’t guarantee that your data, and your privacy, will be safe.
As always, I recommend that you do a lot of research to see what is right for you. In my next article in the series, I’ll give you my feedback on NordVPN, which right now is the best VPN that I’ve tried out. Stay tuned…