June 17, 2021

Can the FBI access your browser history if you use a VPN?

The Senate just passed a bill that will allow the FBI to access citizen browsing history without a warrant.

mitch mconnell

(Getty Images)

As many of you are aware, the US Senate recently passed a bill to extend elements of the Patriot Act. Notably, this legislation included parts that would increase the FBI and CIA’s ability to legally access your browser search history without a warrant.

Many organizations, including the ACLU, pushed for an amendment to this bill that would protect the internet privacy of American citizens. However, as of May 15, 2020, these amendments failed to pass. Since other amendments were made to the bill, it is currently being passed to the House of Representatives for another vote before being potentially signed into law.

This has some people wondering, “Can a VPN protect me from the FBI accessing my browsing history?�

Before we dive in, I think it’s important to address the elephant in the room. This is not a sponsored article. It does, however, contain affiliate links that give Android Authority a cut of profits if you choose to make a purchase through them. If you decide to pick up a VPN here, then you’ll be getting a quality VPN service while also helping us keep the lights on.

So, will a VPN protect you from the FBI?

The short answer is, not necessarily

When law enforcement acquires browsing history, with or without a warrant, their first stop is your internet service provider. Your ISP can see all the sites you visit and it keeps a log of your traffic for just this purpose. However, using a VPN prevents this.

See also: How a VPN works

Although browsing with a VPN prevents your ISP from tracking your movements, your ISP may not be the FBI’s only stop on their investigation. They may also track down and request logs from your VPN provider.

Many VPNs claim to keep no logs, but numerous court cases have demonstrated that this is not always the truth. If you’re using a VPN, it’s important to do go with one that you trust. In the end, just using a VPN only shifts your vulnerability from your ISP to your VPN provider.

Multiple protective measures

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Experts such as Edward Snowden advocate for multiple actively managed lines of defense for true internet security. One of the best tools at your disposal to use in addition to a VPN is the Tor Browser.

Tor is a system that routes all of your web traffic through random, publicly listed entry nodes. It anonymizes your behavior by bouncing your traffic through multiple relays and mixing it with other users. This makes your actual chain of behavior essentially impossible to follow.

For maximum privacy, your best bet is to use a VPN and a secure browser such as Tor. This does, however, come at the cost of significantly reduced speeds.

Make good decisions

go to jail

The age-old argument that’s often trotted out when government power is expanded to trespass on individual privacy is this: “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to fear.�

While the concept is sound enough in theory, it’s all too often used to make authoritarian measures taste a bit more palatable. It insinuates that anyone concerned with digital privacy is only concerned about it because they have something to hide.

In my view, this is a cowardly position that kowtows to authority and demonstrates a clear ignorance about the ways in which power has frequently been misused throughout history for personal and political motives. You’re free, of course, to disagree. You have individual rights, after all.

That said, don’t be stupid. If you go on the internet to break the law, you’re taking risks no matter how well you try to protect yourself. Don’t lean on a VPN to try to get away with things you know you shouldn’t be doing anyway.

And now, the affiliate part

Surfshark

The Android Authority TechDeals store offers a variety of VPNs. The three we like the most are KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, Hide.me, and SurfShark. SurfShark, in particular, is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its vocal promotion of a “no logging� policy.

No matter where you get your VPN, do your own research, and make a wise decision. However, if you decide to pick yours up from TechDeals, we’ll get a cut. I’ll leave you to do with that knowledge what you will.

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