In recent times, we hear a lot of discussions and arguments going on about the topic of ‘privacy’. And if you’ve been staying in the loop about digital privacy concerns, then you probably have heard about, or know a bit about the five eyes countries, and their extension to 9 eyes and 14 eyes countries. So today, we’ll discuss what the 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes countries are, and how they affect global privacy.
At an individual, privacy is difficult to define because every person wants a different level of privacy. Some may be perfectly fine sharing information about themselves, while some don’t want to share anything.
But on a national or even global scale, the concept of privacy has shifted mostly, if not entirely, to the digital platform. The reason behind it is also quite obvious – almost all forms of communication, information, and transactions have become digital. But in recent times, the concept of online privacy is creating a matter of concern for a lot of people, experts and the general public included.
When talking about privacy, one common topic that is brought up frequently is the global surveillance agreement of the 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes countries. Let’s see who these countries are, what they do, and what role do they play in the matter of digital privacy.
Five Eyes Alliance
‘Five eyes’ is an intelligence alliance that consists of 5 countries – The USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. As per this alliance, the five eyes countries gather intelligence from different parts of the world, and share it with each other, primarily for peacekeeping, defense, and military purposes. Along with sharing of information, exchange of personnel is also allowed within the intelligence agencies of five eyes nations.
History and Origin
After the end of World War II, during the 1940s, an alliance was made between the USA and UK, and was even named as the UKUSA Agreement. The National Security Agency (NSA) in the US and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK began co-operating with each other to collect and exchange intelligence.
Later on, three more countries – Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – also joined in to give birth to the five eyes agreement. It was also beneficial for the US and UK to join hands with these countries, as more members in the alliance would mean more resources and manpower to collect global information. That is how the Five Eyes alliance was formed.
Intelligence Agencies of Each Nation
The intelligence agencies of the UK and US are GCHQ and NSA respectively. These are also two of the largest and powerful agencies when it comes to signal intelligence. Apart from these, the security agencies of other nations in the five eyes intelligence are:
- Australia – Australia Signals Directorate (ASD)
- New Zealand – Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)
- Canada – Communications Security Establishment (CSE)
What They Do
Now don’t expect to get a detailed answer about everything these agencies do. In fact, we may hardly even know a fraction of what they do. After all, they are highly secretive agencies and deal with sensitive information. That is why until 1999, the Five Eyes alliance was not even acknowledged by any government in the world.
However, in recent times, we do know that they exist, and also some bits and pieces about what they do. These agencies, in the simplest terms, spy on different nations, using different mediums, to collect intelligence. They need such intelligence to ensure that no country is hostile towards them, as well as to detect and neutralize global threats.
Each country is responsible for monitoring a certain part of the world as per the five eyes agreement.
- USA – Monitors Middle East, Russia, China, Africa.
- UK – Europe, Middle East
- New Zealand – Western Pacific
- Australia – South and East Asia
- Canada – Russia, Latin America
Surveillance Projects of Five Eyes Alliance
The ECHELON program is led by the NSA, and is an automated surveillance system that intercepts electronic and satellite communications. It was first disclosed by Perry Fellwock, a former analyst in the NSA, in 1972.
Since then, there were many attempts to uncover the details of this program. The final blow to the secrecy of ECHELON was given by Edward Snowden, and the NSA, for the first time, acknowledged its existence.
The ECHELON automatically intercepts and scans millions of calls, text messages, and other forms of communications. It is designed to detect certain keywords or phrases that could signify some national or global threats.
When such a keyword is detected, some human personnel is notified who uses necessary means to understand the context in which the word/phrase was used. If the context is found to be dangerous, the person using the word is classified as a threat. It was also revealed that government officials had used ECHELON to spy on citizens of many countries.
TEMPORA is another tool used by the Five Eyes Alliance in their surveillance activities. While ECHELON is spearheaded by the NSA, TEMPORA is mainly used by the GCHQ. TEMPORA focused on intercepting information that is transferred through optic cables.
It means that TEMPORA spies on the internet just as ECHELON spies on electronic communication.
TEMPORA also scans all information that it collects for target keywords or phrases. If detected, they go through the same process as ECHELON. Basically, both the tools have the same function but just monitor different modes of communication. Once again, it was Snowden who revealed the existence of this program in 2013.
Also exposed by Snowden, XKEYSCORE is an all-rounder surveillance system of the NSA that it shares with select allied countries. And as per Snowden, it can be used to spy on any individual in any location around the world. This implies that it can intercept all forms of communication, from phone calls to browsing history and GPS location.
Like both the tools mentioned before, the data collected by XKEYSCORE is also scanned to detect potential threats. Among the three systems, XKEYSCORE is also believed to be the most advanced and extensive surveillance program.
However, NSA has stated in their official statement that the use of XKEYSCORE is limited only for national security purposes and that only select personnel have access to it.
Nine Eyes Alliance
The nine eyes alliance is an extension of the Five Eyes. Apart from the five founding countries, it also includes Denmark, France, Norway, and the Netherlands. Forming alliances with more countries was quite beneficial to the Five Eyes nations, especially the USA and UK because it meant greater gathering and sharing of information.
However, the degree of exchange among the 9 eyes countries is not at the same level as that of the Five Eyes alliance. Among themselves, the five main countries share a greater amount of information. But they only share limited intelligence with the four new countries in the alliance. The Five Eyes alliance is more co-operative where each nation works in unison with the other in a mutually beneficial way. But the 9 eyes countries is not that inclusive, as Denmark, France, Norway, and the Netherlands don’t get access to as much info as the main five countries.
As such, there have often been cases where countries within the alliance also spy on each other. For example, France and the US have often performed surveillance activities on each other even though they are both a part of the Nine Eyes alliance.
Fourteen Eyes Alliance
The 14 eyes alliance was formed by the addition of 5 more countries to the Nine Eyes. Those were Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. The level of co-operation between these countries is even less than that of the Nine Eyes. So they don’t share intelligence among each other as freely as the Five Eyes countries do. Even when they do share information with each other, they will do so only if it’s in the best interest of their own nation.
How Do The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, And 14 Eyes Affect Digital Privacy?
Just knowing that government agencies can spy on us anytime and anywhere is already a scary fact. But there’s not enough concrete evidence that can show the extent to which such agencies spy on people. Also, there is a general belief that people have in their government, and intelligence agencies always claim that they refrain from performing any unethical action.
So most people have a general belief that the government will follow certain moral standards and not just spy on everyone. But time and again, revelations made by people like Snowden seem to indicate otherwise. The internet is already an unsafe place to begin with. Knowing that government officials also spy on normal people only raises more reasons for concern.
Of course, many people also feel that these issues are not that serious. Some think of it as an elaborate conspiracy, while many others simply don’t care about it. A lot of people also suggest that as long as you don’t do anything wrong, there’s no need to fear even if the government does spy on you. But many people also realize that mass surveillance of this type is unethical and invades an individual’s privacy.
Even when we don’t consider government agencies, different corporations are still collecting our data. Amazon knows your online shopping preferences and what products you buy often. Facebook knows your name, address, email, birthday, and even what you look like. Your navigation system knows your current location, as well as previous places you’ve been to. The internet knows our personal information, likes & dislikes, food preferences, topics of interest and a lot more.
The thought of government monitoring all our conversation raises an important question on the issue of digital privacy. If the lawmakers themselves can encroach upon our privacy, then who shall we turn to?
Problems with 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliance
Before the Snowden incident, perhaps many people believed strongly that government surveillance agencies work to protect the people. But now, we are left wondering if governments spy on their own citizens. We are left unsure as to whether these agencies follow any rules and regulations at all, as they are not answerable to any regulatory bodies. This is the biggest matter of concern when it comes to such an intelligence alliance.
The second issue is that of imbalance. The Five Eyes nations are all English-speaking countries dominated by a white population. No other intelligence agency or alliance can level with or counter the surveillance abilities of Five Eyes countries. It means that these countries have an unfair advantage over many other nations when it comes to matters of national and global intelligence. The fact that only five selected Anglosphere countries hold such power and influence in terms of intelligence and sensitive information is something to be worried about.
Even within the Five Eyes nations, the majority of power and influence lie in the hands of the US and the UK, thus creating even more imbalance.
Measures against Global Surveillance
Whether the government is spying on citizens or not may be arguable, but it’s certain that they have the tools needed to do so. So let’s take a look at the different ways that we can avoid global surveillance, if not completely, then at least whenever possible.
1. Change your mindset
One of the biggest problems with privacy is people’s perception of it. Many people believe that there’s no need to worry about government surveillance as long as you don’t do anything illegal. “I don’t need to hide anything if I haven’t done anything wrong” – that’s their mindset. But you can never be sure how the government or any other third party may obtain and use information related to you. So the first step is to change your mentality and be more aware and concerned about your privacy.
2. Limit the use of Smart devices
Most gadgets we use in our homes have become ‘Smart’ these days. You can connect your television, fridge, fitness watch, and your home security system all to your mobile phone at once. But the more and longer you use such smart devices, the more information they collect about you. And the Five Eyes nations have a high level of authority to extract such information from other organizations. So either start using fewer gadgets or reduce the total time you spend on smart devices.
3. Use a VPN to protect your privacy
Most of the digital surveillance methods are based on internet usage. Your IP address and browsing history alone are enough to build a basic profile on you. So one of the best ways to avoid global surveillance is to hide your online footprint using a VPN connection. It masks your IP address and prevents your ISP from finding out your internet activity, sites you are visiting, and the information you are entering.
When you are connected to a VPN, the only thing your ISP can see is that you are using some virtual private network. But they won’t know what are you streaming or browsing. Basically, a VPN will make you anonymous and untraceable when you’re online.
However, even when choosing a VPN service, you must keep certain things in mind, such as:
- Choosing a VPN service that offers many servers outside of the 14 eyes countries. Go through different VPN providers and select one that has plenty of servers based in nations other than the 14 eyes countries.
- If possible, choose a VPN service that is completely based outside of the 14 eyes countries.
- Learn about the privacy laws of your country and their rules on VPN usage.
- Get a premium service, free VPNs are not reliable in terms of privacy and protection.
How do the 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes agreement affect VPN usage?
If any of the 14 eyes countries access your online data, they can share it among other nations too. One can never be too sure about the activities of these countries, and the extent they can go to gather intelligence. VPNs that are based in any of the 14 eyes countries may even be forced to hand over confidential information by the government, based on the country’s privacy policies.
So to truly protect one’s privacy from the 14 eyes nations, simply using any VPN is not enough. You’ll have to select the VPN provider based on these 4 factors:
1. Your Physical Location
The first thing to consider is the country you live in. If you are a citizen of any one of the 14 eyes countries, then you need to be aware of your country’s privacy laws. Do they allow the use of VPNs? Have there been any reported cases in the past where they have abused their power to gather information?
If you’re based in one of the 5 eyes countries, you’ll have to go for a highly secure VPN connection. Because those countries are considered the most active when it comes to surveillance activities.
2. Your VPN’s registered location
Then the next important aspect is to know where the VPN company is based. If the company is headquartered in the five eyes countries, then it’s better to avoid them. There’s a high chance that the intelligence agencies of those countries can force them to hand over the users’ data.
For maximum protection, it’s best to choose a VPN that is based outside of the 14 eyes countries.
3. The VPN server location
Most VPNs provide servers from different countries. It’s important to choose a server from countries out of the 14 eyes agreement. If the server is based inside the 14 eyes countries, their agencies may have some authority to access the info.
4. VPN log policies
Log policies refer to what user information is stored in the VPN servers. VPNs with zero log policies do not store your IP and internet activities. Some VPNs have ‘no identification log’ policies, meaning they store your internet activity but not your IP address. Avoid VPNs that do not follow these policies.
VPN jurisdiction in the 14 eyes countries
The table below shows the legality of VPNs in the 14 eyes countries and the VPN providers based in these countries.
|United States||Five Eyes, 9 Eyes 14 Eyes||IPVanish, Hide My IP, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access (PIA), Private Tunnel, TorGuard, StrongVPN, Touch VPN, SecureVPN, Norton Wifi Privacy, Speedify, VPN Unlimited, SwitchVPN, Ace VPN||Legal|
|United Kingdom||Five Eyes, 9 Eyes 14 Eyes||SaferVPN, HideMyAss||Legal|
|Canada||Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, 14 Eyes||WindScribe, TunnelBear, Betternet, BTGuard VPN, SurfEasy||Legal|
|Australia||5 Eyes, Nine Eyes, 14 Eyes||Celo VPN, VPNSecure.me||Legal|
|New Zealand||Five, Nine, Fourteen eyes||-||Legal|
|Denmark||Nine eyes, 14 eyes||-||Legal|
|France||Nine, 14 eyes||-||Legal|
|Norway||Nine, Fourteen eyes||Opera VPN||Legal|
|Netherlands||Nine eyes, 14 eyes||Goose VPN||Legal|
|Germany||14 eyes||Zenmate, Avira Phantom||Legal|
|Sweden||14 eyes||PrivateVPN, Mullvad, AzireVPN, FrootVPN||Legal|
Best VPN outside 14 eyes countries
Here are some reasons why we consider ExpressVPN to be the best in the market:
- Based in the British Virgin Islands (Out of 14 eyes countries)
- It provides a very high-speed connection across all its servers
- High-grade military encryption protocols
- Strict no-log policy
- More than 3000 servers in 160 locations
- It allows up to 5 simultaneous connections
- 30-day money-back guarantee
The following features make SurfShark one of the best VPNs outside the 14 eyes jurisdiction.
- More than 1000 servers spread across 61 countries
- Decent speeds
- Multi-hop feature to switch between two VPN servers
- CleanWeb feature to block ads and malware
- Based in the British Virgin Islands
- Low subscription cost
Our next pick is CyberGhos,t which takes its place in this list due to these features:
- Based in Romania
- It offers advanced encryption and high security
- More than 6000 servers across 89 countries
- Decent speeds
- Reliable service, been operating since 2001
- 24-hour free trial, no payment required
Our Winner (ExpressVPN – A leading VPN provider with high privacy and security)
When looking for a reliable VPN service, our recommendation is to go for ExpressVPN. Let’s take a look at some of its top features which makes it a top-notch VPN provider.
British Virgin Islands
Kodi, Torrenting, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Sky, HBO
- VPN Servers in 94 Countries
- Super fast speed – great for streaming
- Strong no logging policy
- Very secure 256-bit encryption
- No Streaming restrictions
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- Network Lock (Killswitch)
- Unblocks Netflix and BBC iPlayer
- Safe for P2P and torrent use
- Dedicated apps & easy set-up on all devices
- 5 simultaneous connections
- Excellent 24/7 Live chat/email support
- Bitcoin accepted
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- No free trial
Here are the reasons why we consider ExpressVPN to be the best in the market for any requirement:
- They are headquartered in the British Virgin Islands which lies out of the jurisdiction of the 14 eyes countries.
- They don’t keep logs of your actual IP address and browsing history. When browsing the net with ExpressVPN, your activity is completely anonymous.
- Blazing speeds, and more than 3000 servers to choose from 160 server locations present in 94 nations around the world.
- The customer support is of top class with 24 /7 customer service and quick response time of around 15 to 30 minutes. Support is provided via Live Chat, Email, Ticket, Support documentation, and Contact Form. When we used the Live Chat option personally, it took no more than 2 minutes to get a response from the customer support executive. The support tickets are managed using Zendesk.
- Compatible with all platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and Routers.
- Affordable plans vary from monthly to annual, with exciting discount offers.
A Final Note
The 5 eyes alliance, as well as the 9 eyes and 14 eyes alliance, together form a powerful surveillance body. However, the power they have is centralized among 5/9/14 eyes alliance with no other bodies to keep them in check. It makes the issue of surveillance and privacy even more sensitive. The data released by Snowden raises a lot of suspicious fingers on the government agencies of these alliances.
Even if we can’t be sure if we’re being spied on, the least we can do as ordinary citizens is to be well-informed and keep our guards up. We hope that the information on these intelligence alliances will serve as valuable and educational information for you, as well as a reminder that it’s our responsibility to protect our own privacy.
As a final word of advice, we suggest you to follow the tips we have shared to make the best and most secure use of VPN services. You may not be sure if the activities of five eyes countries, as well as the 9 eyes and 14 eyes countries, will affect you personally or not. But you should exercise precaution for your own privacy, and try out the excellent VPNs such as ExpressVPN.
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