- Surveillance in the US
- Online Censorship
- Net Neutrality
- Freedom of Speech and Self-Censorship
- Cyber Attacks
- Best VPN for the US 2021
- What Makes a VPN the Best for the US
- 1. Best VPN for US: ExpressVPN
- Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
Because it is one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, the U.S. is perceived in many ways. Fast food, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Elvis Presley often come to mind, but it’s mostly seen as the land of the free. In this article, we’ll find out just how free it is online and tell you why you should use one of our best VPN for U.S. picks to protect yourself.
Using a virtual private network is beneficial in many ways. Not only is it a useful tool for gaining access to blocked content, but it will also protect you from online dangers and monitoring.
Surveillance in the US
The amount of government surveillance in the U.S. was one of the most shocking revelations in the documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013. It is one of the most monitored countries in the world. Whether you live there or you’re just visiting, it’s important that you know that you could be included in some sort of surveillance, even through your ISP (read our best VPN for Comcast piece).
There is legislation for government surveillance, but it can be vague, which leaves it open for abuse. The USA FREEDOM Act, which outlined restrictions on how information could be accessed by the U.S. National Security Agency, was signed by President Barack Obama in 2015, but other laws that enable surveillance have not yet been changed.
New laws that affect privacy have also been enacted and others have been renewed. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was reauthorized until 2024. It established procedures for the surveillance and collection of intelligence information between foreign powers.
Plus, the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act was enacted in 2018 and provides processes and procedures for law enforcement orders for data in other countries.
Surveillance carried out by law enforcement in the U.S. is governed by the USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 2001. It gave the government more powers for surveillance and investigation for terrorism and other criminal activity.
The USA FREEDOM Act reauthorized parts of the USA PATRIOT Act that were about to expire and added provisions for how the government could collect data. Even with those reforms, certain surveillance programs continue because other laws allow them to be carried out without oversight.
Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act 2008 authorized the NSA to collect users’ communication data, including its content. It is only meant for the collection of information about foreign citizens, but Americans’ communications get caught in the process and are stored, as well. There are two types of collection: downstream and upstream.
The downstream collection, also known as PRISM, receives data from U.S. tech companies, such as Google and Facebook. It collects the contents of foreign targets’ emails, video chats, texts, photos and more. The upstream collection rounds up data and content from communications as they pass through the undersea fiber optic cables..
Even with the USA FREEDOM Act, the NSA can access communications that are collected. It only limits how the information can be used in court and other proceedings.
U.S. law enforcement is able to monitor communications and their content, metadata and other records under a set of complex statutes. They can do so as part of criminal or national security investigations. Companies store such data for up to 180 days under the Stored Communications Act and the government can request access to the data.
The CLOUD Act was signed into law in 2018. It determined that law enforcement requests for user data sent to U.S. companies applied to any data in the companies’ possession, regardless of where it was stored. Requests used to be limited to data stored in the U.S.’s jurisdiction.
Besides private communications, law enforcement agencies can monitor websites and social media. It was reported in 2016 that the police were conducting surveillance over social media using a tool called Geofeedia, which allows users to search for content from a specific location. The company behind the tool actually markets its service to law enforcement agencies.
There was also an increase in travelers’ cell phones being searched by U.S. border agents without a warrant. Legislation that would require border agents to obtain a warrant before the search was introduced in 2017, but it would have only made it illegal to access a device belonging to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You should be aware of that if you’re visiting.
In general, internet service providers and web hosts don’t get forced to censor content, unlike inside China’s Great Firewall. There are restrictions on certain types of content, though, with good reason. Child pornography, infringements on copyright and illegal content are subject to removal if they are hosted in the U.S., but a court order has to be obtained first.
Plus, Chinese app TikTok could be banned in the U.S. soon. It’s already banned in a couple of other countries, as you can read in our best VPN for TikTok piece.
There are also situations in which you may be hit by a filter of some sort. For example, some schools are required to have filtering software to block obscene, illegal or harmful content and public libraries have to have filtering software to stop users from accessing child pornography and obscene or harmful content.
Anyone found to be advertising, producing, distributing or in possession of child pornography could face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison under federal law.
Net Neutrality rules set by the Open Internet Order ensure that ISPs treat internet traffic equally. In 2017, they were repealed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, though. Without them, ISPs can favor certain websites by speeding them up or slowing others down. You can read more about it in our net neutrality piece.
Freedom of Speech and Self-Censorship
Freedom of speech online is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1934. It was originally supposed to restrict free speech on the internet, but, in 1996, it was amended by the Telecommunications Act, making it a safe haven for websites and platforms that cover controversial or political speech.
It keeps websites and online services from being legally responsible for what others say or do, so user-generated content is generally left alone. That said, users exercise self-censorship because of the worry of government surveillance and online harassment.
A report by Amnesty International in 2017 showed that 33 percent of women in the U.S. had experienced online harassment and, as a result, many of them changed how they use social media. Some have faced threats for writing about political topics.
Though the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of the press, the U.S. Department of Justice sometimes takes action against whistleblowers and journalists, which causes writers to self-censor, as well.
In 2017, hundreds of thousands of computers were infected worldwide by a malicious software called WannaCry. It froze users’ files and demanded payment to unlock them. Many corporations were affected and it prompted the U.S. to strengthen the security of federal networks, but private users were left to protect themselves.
With free WiFi hotspots becoming more popular, there is more opportunity for cybercrime and for hackers to gain access to people’s devices. You can’t be sure how secure the connection is, so using a VPN is sensible, as is using a decent antivirus.
Best VPN for the US 2021
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, AmazonPay
- : 10
- : PayPal, Credit card, UnionPay
- : 30
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
What Makes a VPN the Best for the US
VPNs are made up of many parts, and some are more important than others depending on where you are. While in the U.S, you need to choose a provider that honors privacy. Make sure it has a strict no-logs policy. That means the provider doesn’t keep a record of your online activity, so it couldn’t hand one over it was asked to do so.
You also want it to have great security because that will protect you from online attacks and hide you from all the surveillance. To go with that security, it should have a kill switch. That will keep you secure if the VPN fails by disconnecting you from the internet, ensuring that none of your sensitive data is leaked.
Where the company is based is also important because those headquartered in the U.S. will fall under its jurisdiction. That’s not to say that VPNs based there are bad, but for those seeking complete privacy, it’s best to choose one based elsewhere.
Its server network is also important. The more servers a provider has, the easier it will be for you to access content. Though censorship is not a big problem in the U.S., it’s not the only thing that can block content. Geoblocks can be a pain. In a nutshell, they are regional restrictions that are set so that certain content , such as TV shows, can only be viewed in certain countries.
Perhaps you are visiting the U.S. and want to watch your favorite show from home. With a VPN, you can just connect to a server there to view it. The same goes for watching U.S. Netflix from another country, you just need a U.S. IP address. Check out our best VPN for Netflix if that’s at the top of your list.
Choosing a VPN with good speeds is a good idea, too, especially if you will be streaming. You’ll also benefit from one that has unlimited bandwidth.
Other factors to consider are how easy it is to use, what devices it supports and how many you can connect at the same time. Finally, decent customer service is nice to have and prices vary, both of which may influence your decision.
1. Best VPN for US: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is one of the best overall VPNs available and also our pick for the best VPN for America. With servers in 94 different countries around the world, you won’t be short of options to connect to, whatever your needs are. It’s also the best VPN for streaming, so Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Amazon are all available. Read our full ExpressVPN review to learn more.
ExpressVPN supports IPSec, OpenVPN, PPTP and SSTP protocols and for encryption offers 256-AES, RSA-1024 and RSA-4096; this wide array of options has also put it at the top of our list for the best VPN for China.
It supports connections on five devices simultaneously so you’ll be able to run it on your phone and laptop without a problem. It also features a speed test to find the fastest nearby servers and a diagnostics tool that you can use to assist customer support with any problems you may have.
Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, meaning it isn’t restricted by any data retention laws, so anonymity is assured. It doesn’t benefit from a free trial but with a Best VPN for the US 2021: Hiding from Uncle Sam, you should have ample time to test it and decide if it’s the right VPN for you.
ExpressVPN’s kill switch is another excellent feature, and one that should be found on any decent VPN — especially for those living in countries with very restrictive governments. Consistent reliability, fast speed and strong security all make ExpressVPN a winner when it comes to safe browsing in the U.S.
- Excellent security & anonymity
- Fast and reliable
- Servers in 94 countries
- More costly than most
NordVPN has a strict no-logging policy and is located in Panama, making it our best VPN for torrenting. It features the ability to select a specialized server depending on your needs, including torrent-optimized and anti-DDoS servers. Between all this, there’s no way the NSA can spy on you.
It offers a host of servers within the U.S. that provide access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and BBC iPlayer, so you’ll have no trouble streaming your favorite media, nor with connecting with one just up the road from you. This means that you can browse both securely and fast.
NordVPN doesn’t feature split tunneling like ExpressVPN does, but it does have a configurable kill switch to target certain apps. If the VPN goes down it will kill torrents, for example, but keep your browser and email up. Read our full NordVPN review to learn more.
Other Reasons We Like NordVPN
Boasting an impressive 5000 servers in 60 countries, NordVPN should fit the needs of any VPN user, whether it be streaming media or enjoying secure communications. “Double VPN” is a feature of NordVPN that provides the functionality to use two VPN servers on one connection for added security.
NordVPN offers excellent technical support and round-the-clock live chat for any assistance you require. It also has a Best VPN for the US 2021: Hiding from Uncle Sam, which should be more than enough time to get a decent idea of its functionality.
- Over 5000 servers in 60 countries
- Specialized server selection
- Strong customer service
- Slower than some
3. Private Internet Access
Private Internet Access is based in the U.S. which means it does fall under the jurisdiction of the NSA, FBI and the rest of the alphabet. However, PIA is an anonymous VPN that doesn’t keep any IP or traffic logs and it has maintained an excellent reputation for all the years it’s operated.
One of PIA’s most attractive features is the exceptional value for money that it offers. It provides strong security and fast speeds for a fraction of the cost of some other services with similar performance. Read our full PIA review to learn more.
It’s not the best VPN out there for streaming, but still offers plenty of versatility in other areas, on top of being the most lightweight VPN client out there. It’s run entirely from the taskbar or from your browser, so no clutter on your screen. Read our best VPN for Chrome piece for the details.
Other Reasons We Like PIA
PIA can support up to five simultaneous connections at a time, so you’ll have no trouble securing all your devices. PIA also offers 256-bit encryption and DNS leak protection for extra security.
PIA hosts over 1600 servers in ten major U.S. cities and covers more than 30 countries worldwide, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a connection near you. PIA offers a Best VPN for the US 2021: Hiding from Uncle Sam, so there’s no harm just taking it for a spin.
- Based in the U.S
VyprVPN has a large number of servers spread over 64 countries with 10 servers in the U.S. and offers strong encryption, a NAT firewall and its own DNS servers to prevent DNS leaks. In our tests during our VyprVPN review process we found it to have decent performance for the price range and very user-friendly mobile apps.
In theory this doesn’t offer complete anonymity, but there’s little chance the NSA will be able to get a warrant anyway from the close-mouthed Swiss authorities.
Other Reasons We Like VyprVPN
VyprVPN offers up to 30 simultaneous connections if you sign up through the website — you only get five if you sign up through the mobile app — and excellent value with strong security, decent speeds and some of the lowest prices available. It has easy-to-use intuitive software for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS.
VyprVPN comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can check it out without hassle.
- Based in Switzerland
- Servers in 64 countries
- Some data logs
CyberGhost is another VPN benefiting from L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN and IKEv2/IPSec tunneling protocols with 256-bit AES encryption, giving it strong security and privacy. It has over 4,000 servers spread across 58 countries, giving it broad reach for streaming services — Hulu, Amazon and the U.S. version of Netflix should all be easily accessible.
Read our full Cyberghost review to learn more.
CyberGhost covers up to five devices simultaneously and supports split-tunneling. It also has a great selection of extra features, including data compression, HTTPS redirect and blocking of malicious websites, ads and online tracking.
CyberGhost has an impressive website, which is both intuitive and user-friendly. There is 24/7 live chat available with native support for English, French and German. The basic support on offer is decent, although if you ask something very technical, your inquiry will usually be referred to a more advanced team that will answer it later via email.
Other Reasons We Like CyberGhost
Being based in Romania means CyberGhost is free to operate an anonymous, no-logging policy. It has an app protection feature to ensure you aren’t accidentally left unprotected and a kill switch in case your VPN connection drops.
The downside to CyberGhost in this case is that its server network in the States and Canada lags behind its massive spread in Europe. It’s still a perfectly good service, it just offers a little less choice than the others in this list. CyberGhost offers money-back guarantee to try it out and a seven-day free trial for Android and iOS users (find out how to use the CyberGhost free trial).
- Over 4,000 servers in 58 countries
- Great value
- Limited U.S. Netflix
- Some P2P restrictions
Living in the U.S. means that you need to keep your data secure or you may find yourself the beneficiary of some very unwelcome attention. The above VPN providers will keep you safe while minimizing your speed loss and still allowing you to stream freely. We think ExpressVPN does the best job, but all the other alternatives are fine picks.
What do you think of our selection? Have any suggestions of your own? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out our other VPN articles and, as always, thanks for reading.