Police can’t traditionally track you online when using a VPN due to the robust encryption protocols that VPN providers use.
However, for serious crimes, the police can approach your ISP, which directs them to the VPN provider from whom they can obtain your details.
The degree to which the police can track you when using a VPN depends on the severity of the crimes involved and your VPN provider. I’ll discuss the second part in the rest of this article.
So, read on to find cases where police can still track you over a VPN connection, how they would go about it, what information they would get, and how to stay anonymous continually.
What Information Can the Police Get From Your VPN Provider?
Reliable Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt your internet connection and route your internet data via their servers. This makes it impossible for your ISP to identify you on the network or know what you do.
However, your ISP can see the point of connecting to the VPN, allowing them to refer the police to the affected VPN provider.
When the police submit a request with the VPN provider, some of the data they can collect about you include:
- VPN usage logs: These refer to all the websites you visited and the internet services used while connected to the VPN provider.
- VPN connection logs: These are more sensitive since they contain your original IP address, data usage, the IP assigned to you by the VPN, and connection times.
Taken together, this data might be enough to fingerprint your device, tie that into your identity, and find out who you are.
This is why we always recommend VPNs with a strict, no-logs policy. This way, even if your VPN provider complies with the police, they won’t have any data to give. After all, they don’t collect any data in the first place.
That said, an apparent leak could be in the billing information and address on file. This data needs to be retained for effective billing and functioning of the account. If leaked, it could also tie into your real identity.
You can get around this by paying for your VPN with cryptocurrencies, which introduces an extra layer of security to your online activities.
3 Factors Affecting Your VPN Provider’s Cooperation With the Police
Not all VPN providers will comply with the police’s request to obtain data on you.
Some VPN providers will comply fully, some won’t at all, and others might to some degree, depending on the severity of the situation.
Here are some considerations that determine a VPN provider’s compliance level:
1. Local Data Retention Laws
Some countries have strong data retention laws, which means companies have to collect and store some user data locally.
This makes it possible for the country to request and even seize user data from such companies in its jurisdiction. Having your VPN provider in any of those countries is a data risk.
The biggest red flags should be a VPN provider located in any Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes countries. We’ve done a deep dive into this network of international surveillance communities, and you can read all about the Eyes countries here.
If the police in one region were tracking you, but the VPN provider is located in another Eyes country, they could ask the government to get that data.
That’s why I always recommend NordVPN since it’s based in Panama, outside of any surveillance community’s claws.
2. Company Data Collection Policy
VPN providers may also collect and store user data without national data retention laws. These could be the connection logs, traffic usage logs, or any other data they can see during your internet activity.
Storing such data is less than ideal since it can be seized by local law enforcement or fall into the wrong hands. Not to mention, they can’t resist the police when asked for such data, as they could get sued for obstruction of justice.
3. Severity of the Crime
Your VPN provider may still hand over your data to the police even if it doesn’t have to adhere to data retention laws. In this case, the VPN provider might be convinced the user committed a crime that it doesn’t condone, so it’ll usually cooperate with the police.
But how can a VPN company cooperate with the police if it doesn’t collect any user data in the first place?
These VPN providers can identify you based on your activity on their systems, provided they look hard enough. Once they do so, they start monitoring your internet activity specifically for the sake of the case at hand.
They can collect this data (from the crime perpetrator alone, not everyone else) and hand it over to the police.
You should never hide criminal activity with a VPN. At vpnAlert, we recommend VPNs for privacy, boosting your anonymity online, taking back your digital autonomy, and protecting your sensitive internet traffic.
We even tend to the fun side, helping you unblock all your favorite content (Netflix, Amazon Prime, gaming, etc.).
As long as you don't go beyond that, the police shouldn't waste resources trying to identify you – and your reliable VPN provider won’t budge.
Can a No-Logs VPN Company Still Give the Police Your Information?
Reliable VPN providers have an ethical duty to protect your data, but they also have a moral obligation not to support crime.
This is why they’ll give up your information if they’re convinced you’re involved in serious crimes like massive money laundering, child trafficking, child pornography, or other sinister crimes.
While your privacy is critical, a VPN was never designed for crime, and these providers don’t want to be associated with that.
Realize that they do this to protect other users on the platform since not acting in good faith can result in criminal action against everyday users of an otherwise harmless VPN app.
Although they have no logged data about you, they can still
- Give the police your billing information, which could contain everything about you.
- Isolate and monitor your encrypted VPN traffic to help with police surveillance.
The best way to not have this happen to you is to choose a reliable VPN provider and stay away from crime.
How to Choose a VPN Provider That Protects You From the Police?
You don’t want a VPN service that hands over all of your usage and connection logs the instant the police ask, especially if you haven’t done anything wrong.
So, here’s how to pick a VPN provider that won’t offer you up on a platter:
Check the VPN Company’s Jurisdiction
If your VPN service provider is located in any Eyes countries, it’s time to find another VPN provider unless they have audits proving their no-logs policy.
Surfshark is a prime example, as the VPN provider is located in the Netherlands (one of the Eyes countries) but was also independently audited of its no-logs claims by Cure53.
That said, even if you don’t stay in the VPN provider’s country, evidence suggests that the countries in this alliance share intelligence.
A simple police request to their government means they could ask the VPN provider for what they need and transfer that information to your country.
I’ve discussed the best VPN services to choose from outside of the Eyes Alliance below, so stick around for that section.
Choose Strong Data Encryption Protocols
Military-grade AES 256-bit data encryption should be a requirement. Anything less isn’t acceptable.
The technology to crack this kind of encryption is yet to be made, and that’s a good thing. Commercial-grade computers would require billions of years even to crack this encryption, showing how secure your internet traffic and data are here.
Make sure you’re comfortable with the kind of data the company needs to collect (and keep) about you. Otherwise, go for the next best option.
Strict No-Logs Policy
A zero data logging policy can’t be stressed enough if you want to protect yourself online.
When a VPN maintains zero data logging, you don’t have to worry about any data getting seized. This is one of the reasons I love ExpressVPN’s proprietary TrustedServer technology, which never writes any data to the hard drive for later wiping.
Also, note that any VPN provider can claim this, which is where an independent audit comes in. That provides an unbiased confirmation that the company does what it says.
Automatic Kill Switches
Without automatic kill switches, your internet data and activity are exposed to surveillance whenever your internet connection drops. I’ll explain why that could happen.
Your VPN only works when you’re connected to the internet. When that internet connection drops, the VPN is also disconnected.
Without a kill switch, your DNS and IP data leaks, allowing anyone snooping around to see your real IP address and the IP assigned to you by the VPN.
That’s enough to link you to VPN-related internet activity and uncover your anonymity.
Automatic kill switches step in to end and erase the VPN connection trails whenever your device stops connecting to a remote server. This prevents the platforms you’re accessing from suddenly ‘unmasking’ you to see you’re not who you say you are.
Your VPN should automatically restore your connection to that remote server once it notices your internet is restored.
What VPNs Perform Best Against Police Tracking?
You know everything to look for in a good VPN to prevent the police from tracking your internet activity. The three VPN providers below embody all of these features and even bring additional benefits for a seamless experience.
Located in Panama, NordVPN is out of any surveillance network country and isn’t obligated to hand over any user data.
Even if the company wanted to, NordVPN maintains a strict no data logging policy, which means it wouldn’t have any information to hand over about you.
The company does even better by providing obfuscated servers that prevent anyone from knowing you’re browsing via a VPN.
You can otherwise choose from 5400+ servers in over 60 countries.
A single NordVPN subscription gives you these protections across six devices, so you’re not hemorrhaging data on your other internet-enabled units.
You can start with a massive NordVPN discount that offers you a 30-day risk-free moneyback guarantee.
There’s the misconception that ExpressVPN is under UK jurisdiction since it’s located in the British Virgin Islands. In fact, the British Virgin Islands has no data retention laws, is outside surveillance networks, publicly promotes privacy, and isn’t in the UK’s jurisdiction.
That makes it a prime location for a VPN company offering military-grade AES 256-bit encryption on your internet traffic.
On top of that, ExpressVPN changed the game with its TrustedServer technology, which never writes any of your data to the hard drive before deletion.
This means your data can’t be intercepted between the time of writing and deletion, no matter how small that timeframe is.
In line with an automatic kill switch, ExpressVPN also offers split tunneling. This unique feature allows you to access some servers on the internet with your VPN connection while browsing other content without the VPN.
This genius plan throws even your ISP off your scent since you’re still browsing the web locally.
Having been audited by Cure53 and PwC, ExpressVPN’s claims are as solid as possible.
Get a 30-day ExpressVPN trial with a moneyback guarantee to start enjoying all the service offers.
Like ExpressVPN, PureVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands. This company runs a private network of 6500+ servers in 78+ countries, which puts them up there as one of the largest VPN server providers in the world.
You get AES 256-bit encryption that would take billions of years to crack on every server you connect to.
On top of that, PureVPN maintains internal P2P file-sharing servers, which allow you to share files anonymously without the police seeing what you’re sending over the internet.
If you’re a technical person, you’ll also appreciate that PureVPN lets you choose from a series of security protocols, all of which are as robust as they come.
Some of the supported protocols are
Don’t worry. You can always select the automatic option and have PureVPN choose the best protocol if you’re unsure which to go for.
Meanwhile, KPMG already validated PureVPN’s claims, especially in the no-logs category and other security departments.
PureVPN also started an Always-On audit protocol, meaning the company can be surprise-audited anytime to see if it’s keeping up to standards.
That shows how much the company invests in ensuring it’s safe for you since any day could be the audit.
You can get a slice of this premium protection and enjoy exclusive deals when buying PureVPN today. It promises a 31-day moneyback guarantee, so you have nothing to lose.
Can the Police Track You for Using a VPN?
The police can track you for using a VPN if you’re in a country that bans VPNs, as it’s against the law.
Some countries ban VPN providers and won’t take any action against the citizens using them. In contrast, other countries are only interested in ensuring firms and businesses don’t use VPNs in their daily activities.
In the case of countries like Belarus, Iraq, Oman, North Korea, and Turkmenistan, the police can look for active VPN users and arrest them for going against the law.
If you must use a VPN in these regions, I recommend one that allows you to connect without showing you’re on a VPN connection. Obfuscated servers on NordVPN manage this quite well, so I recommend signing up with the VPN provider.
Meanwhile, you automatically get obfuscation on every ExpressVPN server using any VPN connection protocol, so you’re better secured and stay extra anonymous online with this provider.
Before getting a VPN, please note the status of the software service in your country so you can act accordingly.
Can Police Track VPN Users in India?
Free VPNs or start-up VPN providers in India may be subject to strict data retention laws, allowing the police to track VPN user data across these providers.
ExpressVPN and NordVPN are available in India, where they extend all their security and zero data logging principles to Indian users. Using any of these recommended VPNs will prevent the police from tracking you and seeing what you’re doing over the internet.
Frequently Asked Questions
The FBI attends to serious federal crimes and can track a user over their VPN connection if such user has committed grave offenses.
The Bureau would still have to reach out to your ISP, who directs them to your VPN provider, who can either comply or fail to comply with the FBI.
Note that the FBI doesn’t have the resources or capacity to monitor and decrypt live VPN traffic yet, so they’ll rely on your VPN provider’s compliance to see what you’re doing on the internet once connected to a VPN.
ExpressVPN incorporates a military-grade 256-bit encryption protocol that the police don’t have the resources to hack, crack or decrypt.
The VPN provider also never writes your data to a hard disk, thanks to its TrustedServer technology, making it difficult to obtain any physical records of your internet activity.
Finally, ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands and is under no obligation to comply with local law enforcement since it isn’t subject to any data retention laws.
Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can see that you’ve connected to a VPN, but they can’t know what you’re doing on the internet, so the police go to your ISP for that information.
Once your ISP complies and gives the police the details of what VPN you’re connected to, the police reach out to that VPN provider for more information.
If the VPN provider keeps usage and connection logs and is within the jurisdiction of the police or in alliance with the affected country, they’ll most likely hand over all that data to the police.
Otherwise, there won’t be any data to hand over – and the VPN provider could even choose not to comply with the police.
NordVPN makes it harder for anyone to know you’re using a VPN when choosing obfuscated servers.
These servers might be slower than the regular VPN servers, but they mask your IP addresses, protect your internet activity, and make it look like you’re browsing directly through your ISP.
NordVPN also makes it impossible for the police to track your live traffic via 256-bit encryption and a strict zero data logging policy.
On top of that, the VPN provider offers public Wi-Fi security (which is a weak link in most user security protocols) and an automatic kill switch that terminates your remote server connection once your internet connection drops.
Finally, NordVPN isn’t obligated to comply with the police or respond to any data retrieval request since it’s based in Panama, out of the reach and jurisdiction of any data extradition laws.
Stay Safe and Legal
Knowing that the police can’t track you over a VPN isn’t a license to engage in cybercrime and hide behind a VPN.
As I mentioned earlier, the police will take a strong interest in a severe case of cybercrime/cyber-enabled crime, and your VPN provider will most likely comply as a matter of ethics.
This isn’t a breach of your trust in them but rather your breach of the agreement with the provider. After all, what the VPN providers I recommend want is for you to regain your internet privacy, stay secure on the internet and unblock content that’s unavailable to you.
If you’re skeptical about which VPNs are great against police tracking, try NordVPN risk-free for 30 days to see how its obfuscated servers, zero data logging, and military-grade encryption keeps your data out of prying eyes (and hands).