Best VPN for US citizens to avoid the NSA and FBI

Published by on December 7, 2016 in VPN & Privacy

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The aim of many VPN users throughout much of the world is to tunnel into the United States. The US is, after all, the source of the world’s most popular entertainment, and much of it is only accessible online to those living there.

But US citizens also need VPNs, whether it be to unblock content or improve privacy. The needs of an American VPN user is probably a bit different than someone in a foreign country.

Americans are directly in the line of sight of intelligence agencies like the FBI and NSA. American corporations like Google and Apple monitor and gather information on users in the United States. As Edward Snowden revealed to the world, corporate and government espionage are often one and the same.

While those government agencies and private companies are global and spy on everyone, Americans fall under the direct jurisdiction of their authority, whereas users in other countries at least have a legal border between them.

Americans using VPNs, then, require greater security and less access to foreign content. Below we’ve chosen our favorite VPN providers that achieve this equilibrium based on the following criteria:

  • The provider is not based in the United States
  • No traffic logs are stored on the provider’s servers
  • Strong encryption, 128-bit AES or greater, is used by default
  • Shared IP addresses are used to preserve anonymity
  • Bonus points for anonymous payment methods, such as Bitcoin

ExpressVPN
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ExpressVPN uses AES 256-bit encryption with the OpenVPN protocol by default. No traffic logs are kept that show the content of user activity, but some metadata is recorded. The company is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, beyond the jurisdiction of the US government (and UK government, in case you were wondering). All servers use shared IPs, so you share an IP address with hundreds of other users. The company accepts payment in Bitcoin in addition to credit card and PayPal. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux (command line), and certain routers.

ExpressVPN has a 30 day money-back guarantee so you can try it risk free. They have also offered our readers 3 months extra free here with 12 month plans.

Read our full ExpressVPN Review.

NordVPN
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NordVPN is a Panama-based VPN provider with a reputation for security. That includes double-hop servers that route your traffic through two VPNs and a Tor over VPN option that sends traffic through the Tor network upon exiting the VPN server. Most IPs are shared but some dedicated IP servers are also available if needed. The OpenVPN protocol uses 256-bit encryption standard. NordVPN accepts Bitcoin payments, and it’s one of the best values any VPN provider offers. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Read our full NordVPN review or get 52% of their 12 month plan here.

AirVPN
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If you can live with the ugly interface and poor usability AirVPN has no equal when it comes to security. Only the OpenVPN protocol is supported. For added privacy, OpenVPN encapsulated in SSH and SSL are on offer. DNS leak protection, DNS routing, a kill switch, and port forwarding can all be tweaked in the settings. Zero logs are recorded. The company is based in Italy. The app is targeted at more advanced users, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for a novice to get a grasp of. AirVPN accepts bitcoin. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, and Linux.

Stay tuned for our full review of AirVPN.

PureVPN
PureVPN logo

PureVPN, a Hong Kong-based provider, does not keep any traffic or metadata logs save for a timestamp for when the user connects and how much bandwidth they use. A huge range of servers are available, all of which use shared IP addresses. OpenVPN is not supported in PureVPN’s apps, but it can be manually configured using a third-party app. Otherwise, we recommend L2TP or SSTP, both of which utilize 128-bit encryption. PureVPN accepts bitcoin as payment. Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS.

At the time of writing PureVPN is running some great seasonal deals.

Read our full PureVPN Review.

Buffered
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Hungary-based Buffered doesn’t keep traffic logs, but it does record the user’s IP address, time connected, and connection duration. DNS leak protection works well, but there’s no kill switch. 256-bit encrypted OpenVPN connections are standard. The desktop app is novice friendly, but mobile users will have to opt for a third-party app until the company eventually releases Android and iOS versions. All server IP addresses are shared. Unfortunately, Buffered does not accept Bitcoin. Apps are available for Windows and MacOS.

Like ExpressVPN, Buffered offer a 30 day money-back guarantee. Read our full Buffered review.

Good VPNs that are based in the US

Due to privacy concerns, we filtered out several VPNs from this list because they are based in the United States. That doesn’t make them bad VPNs by any means, but the fact that the NSA or FBI could come knocking on their doors doesn’t inspire confidence, even if they advertise a no-logging policy.

If US intelligence agencies aren’t a concern for you, there are several other US-based VPNs worth considering:

Other than being based in the US, these VPNs meet all of our other criteria. If you trust them not to store any usage logs, then they shouldn’t have any information to give to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the first place.

VPNs that Americans should avoid

Hola

Hola is a peer-to-peer VPN that allows other members to utilize your unused bandwidth. It does not operate its own servers. This is a privacy problem, especially because Hola isn’t very transparent about it. The company allegedly took advantage of all its users’ network power to create a botnet and attack websites in the past. Because internet service providers often impose data caps in the US, and because of blatant privacy issues, we recommend avoiding Hola.

HideMyAss

HideMyAss is based in the UK. Because the US is good buddies with the UK, it’s not a good option for those hoping to avoid national intelligence agencies. HideMyAss infamously gave up user logs to British authorities that led to the arrest of a LulzSec hacker. HMA says it never logs the contents of its users’ internet traffic, but it does store detailed metadata logs that include users’ real IP addresses, which was enough for law enforcement to eventually jail LulzSec hacker Cody Kretsinger following his involvement in a cyber attack on Sony Pictures.

“Free” VPNs

Several free VPN services will try to entice you after a quick app store or Google search, but be wary of them. First off, they are typically slow, cap your data, and limit bandwidth to save resources. Secondly, they have poor logging policies and security. Finally, many free VPNs make money by injecting advertisements into users’ browsers, which actually decreases your privacy.

Blackout restrictions

Even though Americans typically have the best pick of content, they are faced with one persistent form of geo-blocking: blackouts.

Blackouts restrictions usually apply to live streaming video, especially sports. Even if you have a subscription to a legal online streaming service, such as MLB.tv for baseball, local teams are often unwatchable online. That’s because the broadcast rights to local games are often bought up by regional TV stations, and online streaming services are barred from competing.

VPNs circumvent this problem. By simply connecting to another location in the United States where the particular event is not blacked out, the stream can be unblocked. Just make sure you’re using one of our recommended VPNs to ensure you have enough data and bandwidth to get decent quality video without constant buffering.

Check out our detailed tutorials on how to bypass blackout restrictions for MLB baseball, NHL hockey, and NFL football with a VPN and Kodi, a free home theater software.

Detroit 2-8-09” by Michael Kumm licensed under CC BY 2.0

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