Is Tor Legal or Illegal? Possible Consequences of Using Tor

Kinyua Njeri (Sam Kin)  - Tech Expert
Last updated: May 7, 2024
Read time: 13 minutes
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See if the Tor browser is legal and safe to use and what other precautions should be adopted while using this tool.

THE TAKEAWAYS

Several opinions and questions surround the use of Tor and its legality. While it provides a cloak of privacy and anonymity, users may be victims of certain repercussions. Join us as we explore the complexities of the Tor browser and explain how to use it safely.

Tor is a specialized web browser that provides privacy and anonymity online. The name “Tor” is the acronym for The Onion Router, and its hallmark offering is that it allows users to access the dark web, where they can find unindexed and hidden websites online.

Dark-Web

Another reason many internet users use the Tor browser is that it protects them from surveillance and online tracking, as it reroutes internet traffic through a network of servers worldwide and encrypts it in several layers, just like an onion.

Questions regarding the safety and legal implications of using Tor have emerged, especially because it provides access to the dark and hidden corners of the internet. We’re glad to inform you that Tor is legal in many countries. However, you may be liable if you use the browser for illegal activities.

What is Tor?

What is Tor?

Imagine a super-secretive version of the regular web browser; that’s exactly what the Tor browser is. It is an open-source privacy network that enhances private access to the Internet. The computer network utilizes advanced encrypted protocols to ensure users enjoy optimum privacy and anonymity. It shields users’ communications and online data with its multi-layered onion-like approach.

The browser was initially a project developed and solely used by the United States Navy to safeguard confidential government information. Eventually, it became a public platform that any internet user could use and access. Volunteer developers regularly engage with the Tor network to upgrade and enhance the platform for an improved experience.

Is Tor Legal

On the face of it, you must understand that Tor is not an illegal platform. The developers of the Tor project intended to create a platform that facilitates anonymous communication, which is not illegal in many countries. Hence, Tor, a technology that allows users to hide their IP address and enjoy anonymity, doesn’t fall under the scrutiny of the law in developed countries like the United States and Canada.

Tor differs from other platforms like YouTube Vanced, HdToday, and Popcorn Time because they’re illegal ways to stream movies and songs. Essentially, they are piracy platforms and are illegal in virtually all countries.

Another example of distinguishing between an illegal platform and illegal activities is BitTorrent. On the face of it, BitTorrent is not an illegal platform, especially when used for peer-to-peer file sharing. However, it becomes illegal when internet users download copyrighted content via the platform.

Using BitTorrent as a reference, Tor is an open-source project managed by volunteer developers. It anonymizes your online traffic utilizing a proxy server network. Here’s the catch: unlike VPNs, you don’t have to pay a cent.

Tor, in itself, is not illegal; what you do on the platform raises the question of legality. Continue reading this article to find the activities you can perform on Tor without incurring legal implications.

What-does-the-dark-web-boast

Yes, you can use Tor to access the dark web without incurring legal implications if you don’t commit a crime. You can attribute the dark web to BitTorrent in that the platform is not in itself illegal. It’s what you do on it that determines whether or not you’ll be liable.

You can open your device and connect to the Tor project to access dark web sites listed in our article here or a marketplace like AlphaBay today, and you’ll hardly face legal implications. Your activities in the marketplace are what will determine if you’ll be legally liable.

For example, if you engage with an illegal arms dealer on the dark web marketplace to purchase a gun, that’s an illegal activity and would constitute a crime in virtually all regions worldwide.

Which countries have banned the Tor network?

Banned

Many countries are skeptical about the activities and operations that the Tor browser encourages. The platform’s anonymity makes it almost impossible for them to enforce their surveillance and internet usage laws. This is most common in countries with authoritarian governments, as they strive to control everything happening within their borders. That’s why many countries enforced laws to ban the Tor website and shut down its relays.

Examples of countries that have banned Tor browser within their territories include:

  • China
  • Egypt
  • Iran
  • Russia
  • Mongolia
  • Armenia
  • South Africa 

However, in all of these countries except China, users can still access the Tor network using proxy servers and mirror websites. You must exercise extra caution if accessing the Tor network from these countries. While you may not be arrested for using the Tor network, you put yourself under their radar as law enforcement agencies begin to suspect your interactions online.

This high suspicion level is due to the myriad of illegal activities that the Tor browser facilitates. Most of them forget that Tor is also useful for thousands of legal and productive activities. We’ll touch on some of the legal uses of the Tor network in the next section.

How to use Tor

If you want to increase your online security and privacy, consider installing the Tor browser on your device. Search for the Tor browser on your App Store, Google Play Store, or the relevant official store on your device to install the browser. Dive into the tutorials once you install it to understand how the browser works. Make sure your device is running a compatible operating system and connected to the internet before you start the download.

Tor browser has a default privacy setting that offers the average user a decent level of privacy. You can also customize the settings if you want more. Just keep in mind that customizing Tor can affect the functionality of other websites.

Which is the best VPN to use with Tor?

VPN

Although the Tor browser guarantees online privacy and anonymity, several situations can render Tor ineffective in making users completely anonymous. For example, any third party can easily discover your identity if you use a browser plug-in, a torrent-sharing app, or a Tor-configured browser as a proxy.

Hence, connecting to a reliable VPN is important before surfing the internet on the Tor browser.

The VPN is an extra layer of protection to maintain anonymity and privacy when Tor falters. NordVPN is one of the best VPNs to use with a Tor browser.

NordVPN

NordVPN for Streaming

Our top recommended VPN provider and the most efficient tool to use with the Tor browser that boasts top-notch security and privacy.

servers Owns a fast VPN server network scattered in over 60 countries
Ad Blocker feature Effective Cybersec feature to block ads and malware
encryption Implements AES-256 encryption for the utmost security
Kill switch Integrates a specialized kill switch to secure data against leaks
Split tunneling feature Enables customized data routing with split tunneling function
MultiHop mode Offers stealth protection through Double VPN mode
tor compatible Integrates the Tor over VPN servers
Zero-logs policy Commits a strict no-logs policy
simultaneous connections Allows up to 6 simultaneous connections
money-back guarantee Offers a 30-day refund policy
Pros
  • Provides the unique NordLynx protocol that enhances your browsing experience
  • Offers cutting-edge features like Tor-optimized servers
  • Enforces a no-logs policy
Cons
  • The OpenVPN configuration isn’t easy to navigate

NordVPN ranks among the top VPN services, and it’s not hard to see why. With an impressive global network of over 5,500 servers spread across over 60 countries, it employs cutting-edge IP detection technology. But what sets it apart is the NordLynx protocol, ensuring blazing-fast connections for users. Subscribers even get access to dedicated IP addresses, making it possible to unlock hidden or blocked websites while using Tor.

It’s a Swiss Army knife for online freedom. You can safely access torrents, stream content, and effortlessly bypass geo-restrictions with NordVPN. And if you’re looking for extra security, it has the “Double VPN” mode, doubling your protection without any extra cost.

NordVPN new 600x300

NordVPN’s kill switch is a game-changer. If your internet connection drops, it shuts down all online activity to shield you from potential hackers or third-party prying eyes. This ensures your sensitive information, like IP addresses and browsing data, stays protected during those unexpected downtimes. The security lineup doesn’t stop there. VPN offers robust features like the AES 256-bit encryption protocol and split tunneling, giving users comprehensive control and peace of mind. Moreover, you can use this VPN service to access the dark web safely.

Read NordVPN’s detailed review


Does the Tor browser hide your IP address?

While the Tor browser’s primary purpose is to provide anonymity and privacy when using the internet, certain situations can cause the browser to compromise on optimum anonymity. For example, when you use a web browser that you’ve configured to use Tor as a proxy, browser extension, or a torrent file-sharing app, you’re making your identity accessible to prying third parties.

Several legal professions require anonymous and private access to the Internet to function effectively. Anonymity is even more important in countries with strict laws infringing on rights, such as freedom of speech, expression, thought, criticism, and dissent. Some of the legal uses of the Tor network include:

  1. Political dissidents and minority parties can use the Tor network to organize demonstrations, protests, and rallies on fundamental human rights matters. 
  2. Journalists and media experts working in authoritarian governments can use the Tor network to share vital information while shielding their identities and sources to prevent vindictive measures.
  3. Law enforcement officials can utilize the Tor network to monitor criminal activities and track down criminals.
  4. Professionals in cybersecurity and IT can use the Tor network to perform penetration testing. The process involves testing certain security protocols by replicating attacks by actual malicious hackers.
  5. The Tor network is also a veritable tool for whistleblowers to share information and remain anonymous. However, there’s still controversy surrounding whistleblowing’s legal position as it may involve sharing confidential state information, a crime in many countries.

Is Tor completely safe and private?

Browse Internet Anonymously

Tor introduces internet users to a separate section of the internet where privacy, anonymity, and freedom are guaranteed. You can surf the internet without worrying about third parties, such as the government, your boss, and hackers monitoring your activities. The anonymity that Tor provides encourages internet users to express themselves freely.

However, Tor has faced several security and safety issues. Many law enforcement agencies like the FBI and CIA have found ways to circumvent and breach Tor’s security protocols. Hence, they could monitor and even trace internet users who engaged in illegal activities. Also, a weak spot was identified in Tor’s system in 2017. This weak spot could expose the IP addresses of internet users using Linux and macOS. Hence, the guarantee of complete anonymity was a farce.

This uncertainty in Tor’s anonymity level has made many internet users lose faith in the network. However, you can combine the Tor browser with a trustworthy and reliable VPN. Connecting to a VPN while using the Tor browser provides double encryption, providing the highest level of privacy and anonymity you can get.

Legal icon

Edward Snowden’s case is a typical example of the legal gray area that exists in the issue of whistleblowing. Many whistleblowers often share information about government secrets on the Tor browser to protect themselves from the government’s wrath. While calling out the government and its potentially harmful activities is important, it may become a crime when you leak state secrets. This is what Edward Snowden’s case borders upon.

Edward Snowden leaked top-secret NSA documents to the public via the Tor network in 2013. And under American law, sharing or leaking state documents is a punishable crime. Hence, relying on the Espionage Act, the United States government brought an action against him and issued a warrant for his arrest. He became a wanted criminal.

Edward Snowden also urged other internet users to use the Tor browser whenever they’re surfing the internet because that’s one of the few ways that the government monitors your identity or location. He assured internet users that they can express themselves freely on the Tor network and that law enforcement agencies like the NSA cannot track them on the website.

Many people believe that Edward did nothing wrong. They agreed that internet users deserved to know when any third party is tracking and monitoring their activities on the internet. Plus, he only sought to enlighten people on achieving online privacy by encouraging them to use the Tor browser.

Conclusion

Now that you know that Tor is safe and legal, you can roam the internet worry-free! Tor’s your go-to guy for optimum privacy when catching up with friends online, scouting for information, or buying items. The browser even has a handy tutorial video to help you find your way around.

Here’s the downside – things can get tricky when you wander into the dark web using Tor. You might unknowingly stumble into some legally gray areas and land in legal trouble. So, consider teaming up with a VPN for that extra layer of online safety. It’s like having an extra shield while you browse.

FAQs

Despite exhibiting similar functionality, Tor isn’t a VPN at all. We know it’s confusing how both reroute connections to boost online anonymity. However, a peek under the hood of encryption reveals Tor and VPN operate on different engines.

Tor is like the weird open-source project from tech geniuses who crowdsource random drivers to shuttle your data incognito across the web. Total community effort! Meanwhile, VPNs use proprietary tunnels from a single company to guide your browsing discreetly from point A to point B.

But the BIGGEST difference? Tor grants exclusive backdoor access to the infamous dark web by masking user identities. VPNs, however, enhance your overall security and privacy online, unblock streaming sites, work networks, and other banned content with no shady sites in sight.

All in all, Tor and VPNs share DNA when encrypting data. But when you look closer, Tor targets anonymous dark web spelunking rather than acting as your average mainstream privacy bodyguard.

The Tor browser is the only recommended way to access the dark web. However, using it safely and adhering to certain practices is essential to ensure online security. Make sure you open only safe onion sites, update the browser, and safeguard your personal information.

Yes, third parties can track you while using Tor, especially if there’s a compromised exit node. That’s why it’s advisable to combine Tor with a reliable VPN.

As of 2023, the Tor browser is blocked in China, Russia, North Korea, Egypt, and Iran. Other countries, like Bosnia, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Herzegovina, and the Bahamas, have also enforced restrictions.

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About the Author

Kinyua Njeri (Sam Kin)

Kinyua Njeri (Sam Kin)

Tech Expert
12 Posts

Kinyua Njeri is a journalist, blogger, and freelance writer. He’s a technology geek but mainly an internet privacy and freedom advocate. He has an unquenchable nose for news and loves sharing useful information with his readers. When not writing, Kinyua plays and coaches handball. He loves his pets!

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