Best US VPN
United States: Internet Freedom, Censorship and VPNs
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The United States is by far and away the most globally known and outwardly spoken country in the world. It stands as a pillar to freedom and boasts a constitution that protects the rights of every single citizen within the country.
However, with the age of the world wide web now being well into its 20s -- the United States governing bodies have developed an online world that is not as free as the country itself so proudly strives to appear.
Censorship and blocking of online content to the US population is not too strict nor overbearing, especially when compared to other neighbouring countries in the western world. Where the US has really been in the spotlight for (and not positively) in recent years has been with regards to mass online surveillance of user activity not just within the US but internationally. An online user's activity is not kept as private as most of us would like to believe, and this controversial truth has only been amplified and spread globally across mass media of late with recent significant revelations from freedom-fighting entities as WikiLeaks and outspoken individuals like Edward Snowden.
There's an ongoing battle between the public and the governing bodies in the US that make the decisions on how their internet is going to grow and mature. It seems like every other day now there is a new bill being put forward that appears positive and empowering in nature to online users, yet has the potential to be incredibly restrictive and oppressive to users if fully passed.
For this reason, we have put together this page that gives you an overview of everything concerning these issues, along with some insightful and helpful advice on practical ways you, the user, can take control of your own privacy and online experience. Here's a quick summary of what you can find on this page:
Snapshot of The Internet In the United States
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Social Media Access
Content Blocked In the United States
As mentioned, the US does not have a noticeable amount of websites or online media blocked/removed across the entire nation. The US government is not known to do this, which is positive. However, this does mean that the burden of decision lies with each individual Internet Service Provider (ISP). This means that there is somewhat of a gamble when you go between different ISPs (public WiFi, for example) as it is completely down to each one to decide to block or filter out specific websites or online media that they believe to be harmful or inappropriate to the internet service they provide.
Even still with the burden of filtering decision lying with the individual ISPs, there are very little to no cases of such blocking occurring of significance (out with understandable blocking of sites containing or pertaining to child pornography, hate speech, racism, etc.)
With the US being quite liberal and non-restrictive with online content blocking, this gives users access to practically all content they wish to view or share across the web. However, just because content is not overtly blocked to any seriously level internally by the US, does not mean that it is not blocked to them externally by other countries and their international restrictions.
This means that some media streamers and websites that host such media like BBC iPlayer, which contains TV shows that are highly popular and have a very large audience within the US are not accessible to US users whom attempt to view it. The same goes for YouTube videos that a US user may try to view, only to be presented with this always-annoying error message:
The reason for such restrictions and error messages when a US user attempts access, is due to geo-restrictions placed on websites and media, as agreed upon between the content owner and the country that is hosting the site or content.
How To Unblock Content In the United States
There is no way to unblock or remove the restrictions head-on with such content blocking instances. A user cannot "lift" the blocks to access the desired content. However - a user can most definitely bypass and "go around" the blocks in a secure, fast, and --most importantly-- legal way.
To be clear, we are about to describe a solution to both the types of content blocking and filtering that a user in the US may be faced with (ISP blocking/filtering and geo-restrictive blocking.) So this is a true all-encompassing way to give you full access to the full, unfiltered and unblocked international web.
So how, then? How can a US user access content that is completely blocked to them?
Simple. By using what is called a Virtual Private Network, or "VPN" for short.
What is a VPN? Well, to put it very simply, a VPN is a way of letting you create a private (emphasis on private!) connection between your device and the network you are on - most commonly, your home or personal internet connection.
VPNs are used more and more by tech-savvy users in the US as a solution to access any and all content that is blocked to them otherwise. How do VPNs achieve this? When you instal and setup a VPN, you are given a big old list of servers that the VPN provider can offer you, which are located all over the world. So if you're trying to access a YouTube video that is restricted to Spain, for example, and you get that annoying error message when you try to watch it -- by clicking on a Spanish server from your VPN list and connecting to it, you'll instantly be about to now watch that video that was completely blocked from you just moments ago.
Any content that is blocked to a US user can be bypassed and accessed easily with a VPN.
Not only do VPNs allow you this total access, but most importantly they give you this freedom in an incredibly sophisticated and smart way. VPN service providers have a passion for privacy. So as soon as you have a VPN running on your device, you are given a level of anonymity that makes your online activity untraceable back to your personal location or identity. This is a huge incentive to try a VPN, we believe. Especially with the surveillance and online activity monitoring revelations revealed in the US in recent years. Being able to take complete control of your own personal privacy and knowing that none of your online activity is able to be linked to you is a highly comforting thing.
VPNs can be setup on any device you're using that is connected to the internet. Doesn't matter if you use a laptop, desktop, smartphone, smartTV, playstation, xbox, or anything else -- nor wether on a Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or other operating system -- a VPN can be setup in minutes. Full access to content; full privacy protection of your online activity.
How To Watch iPlayer in the United States
As mentioned, many internet users in the US want to watch the various high quality media streams of their favourite TV shows from the UK (Sherlock Holmes anyone?)
The problem is that there is there is no way to access the commercial media streaming providers that offer the most up-to-date UK media. Sure, there are illegal ways like non-commercial streaming websites that are swiftly blocked only to re-birth on another domain name days later, but if you want to be 'above board' about getting your UK television show fix, then you it's incredibly frustrating to go to the main sites like BBC iPlayer, only to be denied viewing because you're trying to access it from the US.
So is there a way to legally access BBC iPlayer in the US? The short answer is: Yes. The longer answer is: Absolutely!
To explain the solution here, we need to explain why and how websites like BBC iPlayer are restricting their content to users outside of the UK.
The reason they are doing this is because the owners of the television shows have made agreements with the BBC regarding distribution rights for each and every show. The show owner makes a chunk of cash from each and every country they allow to distribute their show to on a country-to-country basis. So the agreement that the BBC has made with all the shows in iPlayer are such that users trying to access the shows from outside the UK are not to be allowed access.
With the 'why' out of the way, let's explain the 'how' - since this will help you understand how the solution we strongly recommend works...
BBC iPlayer uses a process that's called 'geo-blocking'. We now know what this basically means, i.e. blocking content based on a user's geographic location at the time they are trying to access it. So the way that iPlayer technically figures out a user's geo-location, is by checking the user's IP address at that moment.
Your IP address tells iPlayer your location, and then iPlayer figures out whether you should be allowed access to the content or not (read: are you physically in the UK or not at that moment?)
So, if there was a way to somehow change your IP address from a US one to a UK one, then you would be allowed access to your beloved iPlayer shows, right? Correct. And that's exactly what our recommended solution lets you do, super easily. How? By using what's called a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
We described the main functionality and benefits of VPNs in the previous section (click here for that). So just to briefly explain how you can use a VPN to unblock BBC iPlayer specifically, you simply just choose a VPN that suits you best, download; install; setup and launch it within minutes, then select a UK server from the main list that you'll be presented with as soon as the VPN opens. The moment you click that UK server, it will connect you to it and your IP address will change to that UK server's IP address.
Then just refresh the iPlayer page and BOOM - you've got full access to the entire BBC iPlayer library, on demand, whenever you want it. All from the comfort of the US.
So, we highly recommend checking out a VPN, and as such have taken it upon ourselves to give you a list of the best five VPNs to use in the US. We have personally reviewed all of the best VPN service providers currently out there today, and have found the five listed below to be the best options for US users.
Best VPNs For the United States
$8.32 / month
$10 / month
$6.55 / month
$6.49 / month
$10 / month
Direct censorship of the Internet is prohibited by the First Amendment. The only exception to this is child pornography. However, compared to the rest of the western world, online censorship in the United States ranks poorly.
While private internet connections in the United States are not subject to overt censorship, there are search related restrictions imposed through predominant search engines, as well as “blocked access” that indicate intentional government restrictions. Private businesses, schools, colleges and government offices, however, may use filtering software, and such cases have been ruled as not violating the First Amendment by various courts.
In 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was created as a response to the U.S Secret Service raid on the offices of Steve Jackson Games. There had been unsubstantiated concerns that its new role-playing game, GURPS Cyberpunk, may contain materials hackers could find useful. The EFF was created to protect the rights of individuals and corporations that use “new online technologies”. When a federal judge rules in favor of Steve Jackson Games in 1993, the EFF was firmly established as a national organization with some clout.
The Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress in 1996, expanded federal indecency guidelines to include Internet content. The controversial law was blocked with a preliminary injunction, and in 1997, the Supreme Court overturned it on First Amendment grounds. The law was considered too broad as it used undefined terms like “indecent”, “patently offensive” and “community standards”.
Some laws have been passed protecting minors from accessing obscene materials online. These include the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 2000 and the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000. These laws protect the privacy of minors online, and allow for Federal funds disbursement to K-12 schools and libraries to help control minor’s access to inappropriate material on the Internet.
However, in 2014, Reporters Without Borders added the United States to its list of “Enemies of the Internet”, category, stating that the U.S. , "… has undermined confidence in the Internet and its own standards of security”. This leads to the conclusion that over the last 10 years, online censorship in the United States has gotten worse.
Direct censorship of the Internet is prohibited by the First Amendment - http://goo.gl/CGSTPF
Under the guide of the Patriot Act, online surveillance in the United States has increased significantly in the last 10 years. Compared to the rest of the western world, online surveillance in the United States is much worse.
In December 2005, it was revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been intercepting phone calls, and Internet communications, of US citizens, in violation of the privacy safeguards established by the Congress and the Constitution.
The EFF confirmed that AT&T was cooperating with this illegal surveillance in 2006, and sued the Department of Justice in 2011 requesting answers about “secret interpretations” of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. In 2013, secret government documents released by Edward Snowden made it clear that the NSA was obtaining complete copies of everything that was being carried along the major domestic optic fiber cable networks. Under the guide of the Patriot Act, the government has also been collecting phone metadata of all US customers, as well as that of communications between foreigners and US residents.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired on May 31, 2015. However, the USA Freedom Act was passed on June 2, 2015, mostly restoring and renewing expired parts of the Patriot Act.
Compared to Europe, the United States has much stricter online copyright enforcement measures in place. Enforcement has also increased in the last 10 years.
The Federal Copyright Act of 1976 governs United States copyright law. It was set up to encourage the creation of arts and culture, rewarding artists and authors with exclusive rights to their works that only expire 70 years after their death.
The biggest change in online copyright law in the United States has been the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. This made legal actions against online copyright infringement easier.
In 2010, some exemptions were made to this law, including allowing consumers to modify their cell phone, and allowing artists to remix videos. The EFF is also seeking six more exemptions in 2015. These include allowing security professional to research the security and safety of vehicles, automotive vehicles to be repaired and personalized by their owners, video remixing, jailbreaking of computing devices, extracting DVD clips and restoring access to games that have been abandoned by their developers.
Criminal penalties for online copyright infringement in the US include:
- Up to USD $500,000 fine and/or up to five years in prison for the first offence,
- Up to USD $1 million and/or 10 years in prison for repeat offences.
Educational institutes, public broadcasting entities, nonprofit libraries and archives are exempt from criminal prosecution.
In 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced, aiming to expand online copyright protection. However, opponents claimed it threatened free speech and allowed law enforcement to ban entire websites due to copyright infringement on one page. The bill was not passed.
Internet Privacy In the United States
The United States Constitution doesn’t use the word Privacy once in its text. However, the Supreme Court has found that “privacy” is protected by the number of amendments, namely the first, fourth and sixth, thus making it a guaranteed right.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed in 1986 to bring new technologies under the umbrella of federal wiretap laws. It is mostly aimed at preventing the government from invading a person’s privacy, but also prevents private-sector companies in the electronic communications sector from revealing information. However, the ECPA still allows for trap and trace orders from the government, and has often been criticized as it has not been updated to accommodate the Internet. Under the ECPA, it is easy for the government to demand companies to hand over personal consumer data stored on their servers.
After the Snowden document release, it was revealed that the government had been tracking emails and phone calls of both US citizens and foreigners, sparking debate on online privacy laws.
Overall, as mentioned, over the last 10 years Internet privacy in the United States has gotten progressively worse. Comparatively, the rest of the western world has much better internet privacy laws in place protecting its citizens.