Can police track VPN users and activities?

Anton P. | November 11, 2022

Can police track VPN users’ activities despite VPN promises to keep them private? Not exactly, but insights police can obtain depend on data retention, registered address, and data-sharing policies. 

VPN providers registered in Europe must store electronic data for at least six months. Similarly, providers must follow data retention laws applicable in their regions. 

However, even if VPN providers receive a court order to hand in information, their pockets might be relatively empty. Reliable VPNs try to have as little information as possible. So, most of them won’t have extensive users’ activity logs. 

Can police track VPN users and activities?

What information about users can VPNs have? 

Can police track VPN users is a genuine concern. After all, as soon as you connect to a VPN server, all online activities go through that company’s servers. 

In theory, Virtual Private Networks can see and collect everything. However, most products use deliberate means to prevent the logging of unnecessary information. 

So, VPNs can restrict the collected amount of data and limit their reach. In general, there are three ways VPNs deal with data: 

  • VPN tools monitor usage information, consisting of clients’ activities like visited websites.
  • VPNs can collect aggregated connection logs. Such data consists of times of connection and its termination, real IP addresses, and a list of connected servers.
  • To reassure transparency, VPN providers follow a strict no-logs policy. This concept means that tools collect only essential information, usually for billing or troubleshooting. Atlas VPN also takes this approach of collecting only the data essential to providing services. Additionally, we do not log data about your online activities.

How can VPN be tracked?

The ‘can VPN be tracked by police’ question usually means whether law agencies can get usage logs on particular people. The truth is that a VPN will likely have some data collected about its clients.

However, it should not go as far as keeping usage or connection logs. Besides police tracking, such databases could pose significant data breach risks. 

  • Thus, even if court orders instruct a VPN to submit data, the provider is unlikely to have anything meaningful. 
  • So, many VPNs indicate they will not reveal anything as they actually have nothing. 
  • Nevertheless, no VPN user should trust a service provider without getting familiar with its official documents. These include terms of use and privacy policies.

Methods of how VPN can be tracked 

One of the ways VPN traffic gets tracked is by its particular characteristics. For instance, ISPs cannot see the contents of your traffic and its destination. However, they can tell that you use a VPN service.  

IP address detection

Entities can detect and block IP addresses belonging to VPN services. Determining whether a VPN provider operates a specific IP address is not highly consuming. 

Thus, users joining VPN servers with blocked IP addresses might be unable to use those services. As a result, VPN providers continuously update their service to deal with banned IP addresses.

Deep packet inspection

Deep packet inspection allows entities to analyze each passing data packet. Such inspection enables providers to pinpoint VPN traffic. Thus, it becomes possible to block particular VPN services. 

However, such data analysis is most common in countries exercising strict control and rules over internet access.

DNS leaks 

A VPN service should not expose users via DNS leaks if it works as intended. However, it is possible that your ISP or other entity might still see DNS requests. Therefore, most trackers can monitor your behavior and location. 

Port blocking 

VPN services use different ports depending on their infrastructure and protocols. Services could block traffic through specific ports, assuming that it arrives from VPN users.

Read VPN privacy policies 

Privacy policies are must-read pieces. They will likely go into great detail about the data collected and security measures meant to safeguard users’ activities. 

For instance, we carefully explain the privacy conditions of Atlas VPN. Here are some of the most important details: 

  • Atlas VPN does not log browsing activities and histories, connected VPN servers, original IP addresses, or other accessed data. 
  • Atlas VPN only collects the information necessary to provide our services, like email addresses for account creation. 
  • Premium users will also need to share their payment information. However, you can also pay using cryptocurrencies for more anonymity. 

For more details, read our full privacy policy.

We will not be able to submit any data outside our collection scope even if someone demands it. 

Guide on how can police track you if you use VPN 

Police will need to jump through multiple loops until they can receive any information from VPN providers. Their efforts can follow these steps: 

  • Police discover the suspected IP address through forensic investigation. 
  • After further analysis, police will likely associate the IP address with a VPN service. 
  • Police will contact the VPN provider to get more information about the IP address in question and its users. 
  • VPNs might abide by court orders and provide the information they have. However, their supplied data might have little to no value, depending on the data they log. 

Some countries allow police to track VPN users 

In 2022, Atlas VPN and many other VPN products decided to leave the Indian market. The reason behind such a decision was the Indian government’s conditions for VPN providers. 

Under the new national directive, VPN providers would need to reshape their logging practices to retain large amounts of personal data. Therefore, valuing our customers’ privacy and trust in our services, we removed our India-based servers. 

This situation illustrates that some countries wish to exercise control over VPN services and their users. China has showcased similar treatment, like convicting a man for distributing VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall. Thus, China only allows VPNs that they approve as legal.

Thus, certain countries can monitor VPN services much more carefully. 

Are free VPNs more vulnerable to tracking? 

Free VPNs do not have the best reputation online. Many free services exploit ads to track users to support their service. 

Thus, many free VPNs could only jeopardize users’ data and activities further. It is also possible that poor VPN infrastructure contributes to IP address leaks and less secure traffic encryption.

However, not all free VPNs follow this path. For instance, Atlas VPN offers a free version that performs the same data and IP protection. So, using a free version does not mean you get less security and privacy. 

What differentiates our free version from premium plans are additional features. For instance, premium plans introduce more locations and protections like SafeSwap and Shield.

Should you worry about police tracking your VPN usage? 

Users should rest assured that their activities while connected to VPN servers are secure. Encrypted VPN traffic protects their habits from various attempts of unauthorized access. 

Furthermore, Atlas VPN does not log your real IP address and VPN usage logs. Therefore, even if an entity issues a warrant, we won’t be able to supply such information. 

We feel pleased to provide users with more opportunities, access options, and overall safer browsing. However, we do not condone any attempts to exploit our services for mischievous affairs. 

Furthermore, a VPN halts IP-based tracking, which means that other techniques can still apply to you. Hence, cyber criminals should not rely on VPNs to conceal their criminal activities.

See if your VPN leaks your IP address

A VPN service should provide you with a secure and stable connection. However, certain apps could expose your actual location. Here is a guide for seeing whether your IP address changes after connecting to a VPN: 

  1. Note your IP address before connecting to a VPN server. 
  2. Open your VPN app and connect to the preferred server. 
  3. See what is your IP address. It should feature your chosen location. 
  4. If you still see your original information, try reconnecting to the VPN server.
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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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