The UK may be a democracy, but it doesn’t have a very free internet. The UK government has in fact the authority to invade your privacy, even if you’re doing nothing wrong.
Avoiding government censorship and surveillance is a big reason to have a VPN active whenever you use the internet in the UK.
While leaving the EU may free the UK from some data sharing agreements, it will likely allow the UK government to impose even more authoritarian censorship and surveillance of its own citizens.
The Investigatory Powers Act (2016)
The Investigatory Powers Act – generally referred to as the Snoopers’ Charter – was passed into UK law in November 2016.
Essentially, the Snoopers’ Charter legalizes mass monitoring and surveillance of electronic communications. It grants Intelligence agencies powers to monitor and store:
- Phone calls
- Web history
- Text messages (SMS)
The Investigatory Powers Act also gives GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) the power to hack into computers and phones to obtain the personal information and data of UK residents.
Without a doubt, it’s one of the most intrusive pieces of legislation we’ve ever seen in a Western democracy.
This is nothing new, though. The UK has been unlawfully collecting data for over 20 years.
A VPN is the most effective way to prevent the UK government spying on you via your ISP. If you want to be extra careful, we’d recommend connecting to a non-UK (nor Five Eyes) IP address when in the UK.
The Five Eyes Alliance
In addition to the Snoopers’ Charter, we consider the UK to be very privacy-unfriendly due to its membership of the The Five Eyes Alliance.
This is the data-sharing agreement signed by five of the most powerful English-speaking nations:
- New Zealand
These countries freely share surveillance data with one another, and one nation can pressure another to hand over someone’s personal data, including web activity logs. Effectively, they spy on each other’s citizens and share the information around.
Our advice is to avoid using a VPN service headquartered in any of the countries above, unless it’s absolutely no-logs or only collects data that couldn’t in any way be used to personally identify you.
Other ‘alliances’ to be wary of are the Nine Eyes, 14 Eyes and the European Union.
Historically, UK ISPs have blocked over 760,000 websites and just in the last two years over 8,000 domains have fallen victim to ISP content filters.
In our 2019 investigation into UK ISP overblocking, we uncovered a scary number of websites being blocked. Currently, over 2,000 file sharing domains are blocked in the UK.
If you want to get around this censorship, you’ll need to use a VPN to connect to a country without such restrictions.
Torrenting and P2P file-sharing in general are legal in the UK, as long as you have the legal right to download the files.
UK copyright laws make it illegal to download and/or share copyright-protected material that you do not have the rights to.
Specifically it is prohibited by the Digital Economy Act, which was introduced in 2010.
In practice, the law requires major UK ISPs to notify customers (via a Cease and Desist Letter) caught downloading or sharing a copyrighted digital work. ISPs with less than 400,000 customers are exempt.
Also, UK ISPs have the right to throttle torrenting and P2P speeds and even block subscribers from accessing torrent sites. In fact, UK ISPs block over 2,000 domains, including popular torrent sites such as:
- The Pirate Bay
ISPs have the ability to monitor what websites you visit. Even worse, torrenting exposes your IP address to other users and directly to copyright holders.
We strongly recommended that you only use a torrenting client from the UK if you are using a VPN, ideally one with servers located in another country.
These are the best safe torrenting VPNs to unblock torrent sites and download files anonymously.