Have you ever heard of 14 Eyes countries?
If you are interested in privacy, you might have already come across the terms 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes countries.
Well, do you know what they mean?
If your answer is no, you are in perfect luck today.
In this article, you will learn what 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes countries mean, you will also learn about the ECHELON surveillance, NSA and GCHQ cooperation within 5 eyes, and the importance of avoiding 5 eyes.
So let’s get started.
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliance
The terms 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes are used to describe a coalition of countries that work together to obtain and share all sorts of data amongst themselves.
These countries have now become a worldwide organization with access to gigantic bulk information.
Are you wondering the origin of 5 eyes, 9 eyes, 14 eyes surveillance alliance?
I guess your answer is yes.
Let’s see how the alliance originated.
5 Eyes Countries
It is a part of an extensive alliance of western countries that share signals intelligence with each other.
The original five Eyes alliance was formed in the 1940s. It started as a union between the United States and the United Kingdom which was called the UKUSA agreement. This enabled the two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, to exchange information more easily.
The UKUSA agreement was officially enacted after the war in 1946, and the partnership continued throughout the cold war and has only strengthened since the global war on terror.
And then Canada, Australia, and New-Zealand later joined the UKUSA agreement, because they were cooperating with Commonwealth countries with a common legal system. This is how the 5 Eyes countries, also known as the FVEY, was born.
These countries are:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
The Edward Snowden leak in 2013 renewed a lot of focus on the Five Eyes surveillance alliance when he exposed the surveillance activities of the US government.
9 Eyes Countries
The existence of the Nine Eyes alliance has been referenced in various sources online and it became well-known following the Snowden revelations in 2013.
The 9 eyes countries are just an extension of the Five Eyes alliance with similar cooperation to collect and share mass surveillance data.
While these countries may not share as much information with each other as the countries in the Five Eyes Alliance, they are still actively and willingly participating in international intelligence-sharing.
The Nine Eyes countries include:
- The 5 Eyes countries +
14 Eyes Countries
The original surveillance agreement was extended to these countries. Though, the official name of this group of countries is SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR).
The fourteen eyes countries include:
- The 9 eyes countries +
It is worth mentioning that in addition to these confirmed alliances, there have been third parties that have been suspected of exchanging information with the Fourteen Eyes Alliance such as Israel, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.
Now that you know how the 14 eyes countries originated, let’s have a close look at how they operate in daily life.
NSA And GCHQ Cooperating With 5 Eyes.
Most government document releases, which have come out through official FOIA channels, have revealed the close relationship between the NSA and GCHQ.
These two being the most powerful surveillance entities in the world, with historical ties, it can never be a surprise that they are working closely together.
In 2018, a top-secret NSA document from 1985 was released via an FOIA request, it revealed the close cooperation continues today due to the broadly written UKUSA agreement:
“The UKUSA Agreement, dated 5 March 1946, has twelve short paragraphs and was so generally written that, with the exception of a few proper nouns, no changes to it have been made. It was signed by a UK representative of the London Signals Intelligence Board and the U.S. Senior Member of the State-Army-Navy Communications Intelligence Board (a predecessor organization that evolved to be the present National foreign Intelligence Board). The principles remain intact, allowing for a full and interdependent partnership. In effect, the basic agreement allows for the exchange of all COMINT results including end product and pertinent collateral data from each pattern for targets worldwide, unless specifically excluded from the agreement at the request of either party.”
And another top-secret NSA document from 1997 (officially released in 2018) further elaborates on the close cooperation between the NSA and GCHQ:
“Some GCHQ [redacted] exist solely to satisfy NSA tasking. NSA and GCHQ jointly address collection plans to reduce duplication and maximize coverage through joint sites and cross-tasking, despite site closures.”
With the reference to “joint sites” above, it’s important to discuss ECHELON.
ECHELON Surveillance System
During the cold war, FVEY developed ECHELON to allow them to intercept Soviet communication.
This system is now used to monitor the communication of billions of citizens worldwide.
The public became aware of ECHELON in the ’90s, this caused a small outrage in Europe as well as in the United States.
Certain wars on terror like the 9/11 attacks were used to argue for the continuation and increase in monitoring practices. But from then on, surveillance moved to the internet.
This is a network of spy stations utilized by Five Eyes countries for large-scale espionage and data collection.
The Guardian described ECHELON as follows:
“A global network of electronic spy stations that can eavesdrop on telephones, faxes, and computers. It can even track bank accounts. This information is stored in Echelon computers, which can keep millions of records on individuals.
Officially, however, Echelon doesn’t exist. Although evidence of Echelon has been growing since the mid-1990s, America flatly denies that it exists, while the UK government’s responses to questions about the system are evasive.”
But even though there are denials, some whistleblowers have confirmed what’s going on behind the scenes.
5 Reasons Why you Should Avoid 5 Eyes Countries
As there are privacy concerns with countries in 9 and 14 Eyes alliances, it is very important to avoid the Five Eyes countries ( US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand).
Some say that these surveillance jurisdictions are misguided and that they really don’t matter. You will often hear these arguments from VPN companies that are based in Canada or the US.
But there have been many examples proving the risks associated with privacy-focused companies that are operating in Five Eyes countries jurisdictions. Here are a few:
- Riseup, a VPN and email service based in Seattle, was forced to collect user data for the government agents and it was also hit with a gag order to prevent any disclosure to the users.
- Lava, also based in the US, is an email service that was basically forced to shut down after the government demanded encryption keys and full access to user emails. Instead of complying, the owner decided to close it down the business.
- IPVanish, another VPN service that is based in the US was forced to collect user data for an FBI criminal investigation, all this while claiming to be a no logs VPN and not alerting their users to what was happening. Here is the case of the IPvanish log.
- HideMyAss, a UK VPN service that was also ordered by a court to collect user data and hand it over to authorities for a criminal investigation. Everything about this came out only after the fact.
These are just some few cases that have come out publicly, but you can be sure that there is more in the dark than what’s in the light.
Secret demands for user data + orders causes privacy nightmare
As you have seen from the examples above, when authorities compel businesses to collect for them data and hand them over, they usually serve them with a gag order too.
This is done through National Security Letters that prevent the business from disclosing any information to their customers.
Basically, these laws can give the government the authority to compel a legitimate privacy-focused company to become a data collection tool for state agencies, without any warning or notification.
But that’s not all, warrant canaries are ineffective and illegal in places like the United States.
So don’t ignore the jurisdiction of a privacy-focused business because it is foolish, as well as ignoring these well-documented risks.
How Can This Affect VPN Users?
The intelligence-sharing practices of these 14 alliance countries have wide implications for internet users and VPNs in particular.
It is okay to assume that if any of these 14 countries gain access to your data online, your data can be shared with other countries.
But all this comes down to who has jurisdiction over your online activity when you are using a VPN.
You need to know or be aware of the online laws and regulations of the country you are in.
For example, is VPN legal in your country?
Most of the answers will be yes, but not always.
Depending on the country that your VPN provider is based in, it could be forced to hand over information to the government about its users, as I mentioned in the examples above…
This data could then be shared amongst these countries in the alliance, and what’s even worse is that you may even not know that your privacy has been breached.
The many ways that VPNs can fall under the jurisdiction of various governments is why the best VPNs for privacy have strict no-logs policies. This means that they do not retain any kind of identifying information about their users or their online activity.
A great example of this policy in action comes from the well-known VPN provider ExpressVPN. A Turkish police investigation that involved an ExpressVPN user tried to compel the provider to hand over identifying data.
Despite their best attempts, authorities were unable to find any identifying information due to ExpressVPN’s strict no-logs policy.
As comforting as this story is, there are also known cases of VPN providers claiming to have a no-logs policy who then gave out users’ sensitive information to government authorities.
It may not be enough for a VPN provider to claim to offer a no-logs policy, particularly for VPN providers that fall under the jurisdiction of countries in the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances.
Recommend Privacy Services
The main purpose of restoring privacy is to test, research, and recommend security tools that meet specific criteria.
And in terms of jurisdiction, the main concern is to avoid Five Eyes countries.
Protect Yourself Against Mass Surveillance.
Since we spend most of our lives we spent on the internet, online privacy is becoming an important consideration.
It is good to be aware of concepts like 5, 9, and 14 eyes alliances, these projects can invade your privacy.
To protect yourself against these forces, you can opt to use a VPN.
A VPN is very effective when you want to hide your online privacy and hide your data traffic from prying eyes.
But you should note that, if you want to specifically use a VPN to escape the reach of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes countries, you should choose a VPN that isn’t based in one of these countries.
Here is an article with examples of premium VPN providers that are not subject to the mass surveillance of the 14 Eyes countries.
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries form a big western alliance that exchanges sensitive information and uses mass surveillance and it has become almost a global spying network.
The agreements of the alliances enable these countries within it to bypass their national privacy laws and still get their hands on even more information.
The 5 Eyes countries are:
- United States
The 9 Eyes countries are:
- Five Eyes countries +
- The Netherlands
The 14 Eyes countries are:
- The Nine Eyes countries +
Jurisdiction is one of the many factors to consider when selecting reliable privacy tools for your unique needs.
But how much it matters depends on your own circumstances, mostly your threat model and how much privacy you need.
Using a VPN to improve your online security and privacy is not a bad idea, because a good VPN will ensure that your network is not intercepted by anybody.
So if you are to choose a VPN, you must always remember knowledge is a key factor, always do the most to find out more about the VPN.
As a result of conducting this research, I propose that as much as you think you have nothing to hide, there are so many eyes watching you. And who knows what they can see?
I hope this article answered all your questions.
I would love to hear your thoughts or answer your questions in the comment section below.
Good luck and stay safe.