Whether you live and work in Ireland, or are just passing through for a holiday, it's important to lock down your data and protect your privacy with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Ireland's internet infrastructure and data regulations can be a little deceptive. There's a lot happening under the surface that isn't readily apparent to most users. Believe it or not, Reporters Without Borders ranked Ireland 9th out of 180 countries in its 2016 index, meaning that it was the 9th most liberal country in terms of information access and lack of censorship. However, there's a lot that you likely don't know, and, contrary to the old adage, what you don't know can hurt you.
To help you stay safe and secure, I’m going to take a closer look at the best VPNs for Ireland. Afterward, I’ll discuss Ireland's internet nuances in greater detail.
Best VPN for Ireland: Summary
Best VPN for Ireland: Considerations
Accessing Restricted Content in Ireland
I already mentioned that Ireland was ranked 9th out of 180 countries in terms of internet freedoms and lack of censorship. With that in mind, you might think that content isn't ever blocked or restricted in Ireland, but that's not the case. It simply means that the government doesn't impose harsh censorship restrictions like those that are common in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Governmental censorship is only one reason that some websites are inaccessible within Ireland. There are many other causes, which result mainly from economic reasons. For example, trade regulations and licensing agreements make it illegal to access certain types of content from Ireland. Furthermore, many countries and territories have vastly different copyright infringement and copyright enforcement laws, which are upheld by the Irish government.
These types of regulations may bar access to various streaming content sites, such as those that host streaming video and audio, not to mention BitTorrent. Remember that copyright holders can choose to take legal action against illegal downloaders, if they can see the downloaders' true IP addresses.
Accessing Content Outside of Ireland
In some situations, such as vacations or business trips, you'll need to access content that's physically hosted within Ireland's borders. One of the most popular resources that is restricted is RTÉ Player, though there are other examples, such as BBC iPlayer.
In addition, there are many smaller WordPress websites that use plugins and add-ons to block incoming connections from foreign countries. For example, if a blogger is cultivating an audience of native English speakers (those from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK, and so forth), he/she may wish to block connections from China, Russia, and other locations.
Not only does this help the website owner reduce spam, but it increases security by limiting the scope of countries that can access the web content. Fortunately, a VPN tunnel will help unblock all the aforementioned types of content via IP address masking.
In addition, many gamers are aware that game servers are distributed by region. Many online games don't give players the opportunity to manually select a game server, and instead connect to the nearest server in the region. A VPN tunnel allows gamers to choose a game server by spoofing their IP addresses to the desired region.
Ireland's Tangled History with Microsoft and the Federal US Government
It's no secret that many US-based digital services were caught collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA), an ugly truth brought to light when Edward Snowden blew the whistle in 2013. Naturally, as one of the US's largest tech companies, Microsoft was deeply involved in numerous governmental data programs and scandals, such as the PRISM monitoring system.
The NSA had claimed that it only spied on communications that were domestic at one end and foreign at the other, but it turned out that it had been wiretapping purely domestic communications as well. You may think that it's possible to avoid wiretapping by the US federal government, by refraining from making connections with US-hosted servers from Irish IP addresses, but that's not strictly true.
First of all, various versions of Windows collect obscene amounts of user activity data. Microsoft claims that this data is anonymous and used only to improve its software, but that doesn't seem to be the case. A great deal of data is linked to users' Microsoft accounts, including sensitive information such as telemetry data, touch and input data, user activities, and even GPS data (among many other things).
All of this data ends up on a Microsoft server, which could very well be hosted in the United States. Windows 10 is no exception. It silently mines user data in the background by default, and makes invisible connections with Microsoft servers, unless you explicitly disable settings that are buried within the operating system.
For a VPN for windows and other operating systems take a look at the guide below:
What does this have to do with Ireland, you ask? Well, in early 2014, Microsoft made public statements detailing new policies that would enable non-US users to store data on overseas servers.
The idea was to restore confidence in foreign users, by assuring them that the US government couldn't comb through their private data that was hosted overseas. Unfortunately, the Patriot Act forces domestic US firms to comply with directives from intelligence agencies, even if that data is hosted on foreign servers. Even worse, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) gives US agencies the power to collect data stored in EU territories. As a result of these laws, Microsoft had no choice but to comply when the US courts forced it to forfeit emails and customer data hosted in Ireland.
To its credit, Microsoft fought tooth and nail to protect its users' data rights, but that is beside the point. The unfortunate truth is that data laws are always changing, and you're not inherently safe from foreign governments' surveillance even if you live in Ireland.
Protect Your Identity with a VPN
While there is little we can do to control foreign surveillance laws, you can employ definite measures (other than abstaining from using digital services) to protect your privacy. To that end, you really need to use a VPN to lock down your data communications and protect your identity. Would anyone really want their personal data to end up in the hands of a foreign government? Of course not!
To be fair, even using a VPN wouldn't have helped out in the Microsoft and NSA debacle, because the information was all tied to Hotmail accounts. However, this fiasco shows how prudent we need to be about taking measures to secure our data, rather than blindly trusting technology companies to provide adequate protection.
Microsoft is just one example. There have been several other high-profile technology companies that located their servers in Ireland in an attempt to give a wide berth to the long reach of the NSA. As the Microsoft example illustrated, however, locating resources in Ireland is not an effective countermeasure to the NSA's clandestine wiretapping initiatives.
Best VPNs for Ireland: Conclusion
Despite free and open internet laws, there's still a lot of content that is inaccessible in Ireland. Furthermore, if you're traveling and need to access content hosted in Ireland, you may find that your current IP address is blocked by web servers.
These days, we simply can't afford to let big tech companies like Microsoft manage our security for us. Instead, we need to take proactive measures to ensure that our data is secure. Microsoft's hosting of data in Ireland still wasn't enough to provide a guarantee for its customers' data security. While we may not be able to choose where big corporations host their data, it's certainly a simple matter to bolster our online security.
The easiest and most secure way to protect our online privacy and access restricted content is by using a VPN. The aforementioned providers are the best VPNs for Ireland (though several other VPN providers also host servers in Dublin). If you're still not sure which service you like, I'd recommend taking advantage of a free trial to test it out for yourself.
Best Irish VPN: Summary
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