22 October 2020
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes: Surveillance Alliances Explained
By Erwin Caniba
It wouldnít be right to talk about VPNs without mentioning the surveillance alliances of the world. After all, these alliances have a huge impact on the VPN industry. They dictate where service providers can and cannot operate safely.
In this article, youíll learn everything about Five Eyes and other surveillance alliances and their impact on VPNs. Iíll discuss their histories along with why they should be avoided. I shall also discuss how they affect consumers.
The Surveillance Alliances
Multiple surveillance alliances exist. The most famous of which are the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances. All of them are aptly named after the number of member states they have.
You are probably wondering what these surveillance alliances do. In simple terms, they work to gather and share mass surveillance information. That information is obtained from citizens in various ways, like emails, documents, and wiretaps. As such, these alliances pose a massive risk to your privacy.
Five Eyes Alliance members have equal access to each otherís intelligence data. The same canít be said for the Nine and Fourteen Eyes Alliances.
Oftentimes, the member countries of these alliances provide reports and raw data without anything in return. They donít even get access to resources, assistance, and equipment from the National Security Agency (NSA).
It would be wrong to only concern yourself with the Five Eyes Alliance because of whatís stated above. The reason why is because the two other alliances may also invade your privacy.
VPN services canít base themselves in member states of the worldís surveillance alliances. Itíll be impossible for them to operate freely in those locations. Theyíll have to follow strict privacy and copyright laws or face being shut down.
For that reason, most VPNs are based in countries and territories like Panama and the British Virgin Islands. These places are free from the jurisdiction of any surveillance alliance, making them safe havens for VPNs.
With all that said, there are still many services that operate from surveillance alliance member states. Great examples include IPVanish and Private Internet Access (PIA), both based in the United States.
1. Five Eyes
The Five Eyes Alliance is the oldest and most important surveillance alliance in the world. It has been operating for decades, collecting and analyzing the daily activities of the citizens of member states. Keep in mind that these activities can be either online or offline.
Member states of the Five Eyes Alliance are:
The original mandate of this alliance was to protect against communist threats. It changed over time to address contemporary issues. In doing so, the member states have taken the opportunity to expand their surveillance within and sometimes outside their borders.
Interestingly, almost nothing was known about the Five Eye Alliance until 2013. All that changed when Edward Snowden leaked information about its activities. The most alarming thing revealed was proof that the United States conducted mass surveillance with the help of ISPs and telcos.
Over its history, lots of well-known individuals have been monitored by the alliance. These include celebrities, politicians, and other public figures. Hereís a list of a few famous personalities that have been targeted:
Nelson Mandela isnít a citizen of any member state of the Five Eye Alliance. As such, itís clear that the allianceís spying activities are not limited to people within its jurisdiction. Anybody can be a target, which is why you should be careful no matter where youíre from.
Unoffical Five Eyes Partners
The Five Eyes Alliance has unofficial partnerships with a handful of sovereign states. It works with each to procure information that is helpful to its operations. These states may or may not get data in return for their cooperation. Because of that, they donít share equal status with the official Five Eyes members.
Countries with an unofficial partnership with the Five Eyes Alliance include:
Israel and Japan, in particular, are known to heavily collaborate with the Five Eyes Alliance. The two nations have a lengthy record of sharing information with the organization. If anything, this shouldnít come as a surprise as theyíre both formal allies of the United States and the European Union.
While the United Kingdom has overseas territories, it isnít known to share much citizen info with them. Moreover, theyíre not liable to provide data to the UK as theyíve been granted a high degree of autonomy. For that reason, many VPNs operate from the British Virgin Islands.
2. Nine Eyes
Another major global surveillance alliance is the Nine Eyes Alliance. It is basically an extension of the Five Eyes Alliance, composed of its original members and four other states. These additional states are:
The level of cooperation between Nine Eyes member states isnít that intense. Still, theyíre known to share quite a lot of information. This is especially true on matters related to crime, terrorism, and anything that involves national security.
3. Fourteen Eyes
One last important surveillance alliance that drastically affects the VPN industry is the Fourteen Eyes Alliance. Known officially as SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), itís yet another extension of the Five Eyes Alliance. Its members include every one of the members of Five and Nine Eyes Alliances, along with 5 more countries. These countries are:
The level of cooperation amongst Fourteen Eyes Alliance member states is not as significant as what Five and Nine Eyes members have. Nevertheless, they still frequently share information about their citizens. Hence, itís still essential to be mindful of the alliance if youíre from or visiting a member state.
4. Others: 41 Eyes and Tier B countries
Apart from the global surveillance alliances mentioned above, there are a few issue-specific intelligence agreements in place. These agreements include all the countries stated earlier, along with many other sovereign states.
Some of these ďTier BĒ countries include but arenít limited to:
You should always take the right measures to protect your privacy if you hail from these countries. Even if youíre not a citizen, it is essential to know how your privacy and security can be compromised. Do something about this to make sure you never become a victim of unauthorized surveillance.
History of the Alliances
Itís possible to trace the origins of the Five Eyes Alliance and its lesser-known counterparts back to 1941. Back then, the Atlantic Charter came into existence. It established a series of goals for the Allies to fulfill after World War II.
Two years later, the BRUSA Agreement was signed by representatives from the UK and the US. It facilitated cooperation between the nationsí governments. A large part of that included sharing sensitive information obtained from surveillance.
In 1946, the UKUSA Agreement was formalized. This agreement forms the basis of signal intelligence cooperation thatís done between the GCHQ and NSA today.
Within a few years, the agreement got extended to include Canada, Norway, Denmark, West Germany, Australia, and New Zealand. All these countries participated merely as third parties.
In 1955, a newer version of the UKUSA Agreement was created. This ďnewĒ version is what we know today as the Five Eyes Alliance. If youíre wondering, the term Five Eyes itself came from ďAUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLYĒ.
During the Cold War, the Five Eyes Alliance member states mainly focused on fighting the spread of communism. The information they shared with each other was mostly about the Soviet Union, The Peopleís Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba, and Eastern Bloc countries.
As the Vietnam War went about, Australian and New Zealand agents worked alongside Americans to provide support. Meanwhile, a task force of British operatives based in Hong Kong monitored Chinese and North Vietnamese defense systems. Countries that are now part of the Nine and Fourteen Eyes Alliances also provided assistance.
By the end of the century, the Five Eyes Alliance and its lesser counterparts had developed a huge global surveillance system. This system could collect massive amounts of private info from telephone calls, emails, fax messages, and other kinds of data traffic.
Things were taken up a notch after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. But, up to this point, the existence of global surveillance alliances was not confirmed.
Only in 2013 did concrete proof exposing the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances came about. This happened because of Edward Snowden, who leaked confidential documents during his time working as an NSA contractor.
Nowadays, the worldís three major surveillance alliances have a more public existence. Still, most of their actions are shrouded in secrecy. On the bright side, at least everyone knows about them and can take the necessary measures to evade their watchful eyes.
Why Avoid Them?
Any surveillance alliance must be avoided at all costs. The reason why is because their aim is to breach your privacy. To do this, every method conceivable is used.
Everything from your social media posts to your phone conversations can be tracked and recorded. Information that is obtained can then be used against you. In what way? Data obtained might be used to implicate you in crimes that you did not commit.
I know that avoiding surveillance alliances is easier said than done, especially if youíre from a country under their jurisdiction. After all, governments have almost unlimited funding, the best equipment, and every resource imaginable.
Fortunately, there are methods that you can utilize to avoid getting invaded upon. Iíll talk about all of these methods later on.
You should know that much controversy has surrounded surveillance alliances.
When Edward Snowden revealed their existence in 2013, he also exposed their actions. It came to light that the Five Eyes Alliance conducted widespread surveillance of citizen activity. The private lives of millions of people were invaded secretly for decades.
How Do They Affect VPNs?
Surveillance alliances affect VPNs quite drastically. They completely dictate where a service provider can safely operate.
Why? Because the locations that fall under the jurisdictions of surveillance alliances usually have restrictive privacy and copyright laws. These laws make it hard for a VPN to safeguard your data and anonymity.
If a VPN doesnít comply with the laws of a given area, itíll be forced to shut down. Thus, if a certain government asks for your data, itíll have to be given. For this reason, VPNs operating in places under the jurisdiction of surveillance alliances are sometimes untrustworthy.
Hereís a full list of the all VPNs that operate in places under the jurisdictions of the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eye Alliances:
Note that not all the VPNs listed above are untrustworthy. Two of them (Private Internet Access and IPVanish) have even made it into our top VPN list. As such, itís important to do your research to not judge a VPN based solely on its jurisdiction.
If you need help with selecting a VPN service, weíve got comparisons and reviews. Go and check them out.
How to Protect Yourself
There are various ways to protect yourself from surveillance alliances. Letís talk about what each to stay ahead of them. Following the steps below, youíll make it harder for any surveillance organization to invade your online privacy.
1. Use Secure VPNs
A VPN is the best tool you can use to protect your digital privacy. With that being said, not all VPNs are created equal. Some are far better than others at providing security and absolute anonymity. For that reason, you must choose wisely.
Secure VPNs have all the latest security features like kill switches,
WireGuard support, and military-grade AES 256-bit encryption. They also have
huge server networks that are 100% RAM-based, making them incapable of
storing logs. Lastly, the most secure VPNs maintain good records with no
histories of being breached.
2. Use Secure Browsers
Mainstream browsers like Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome arenít secure. The companies that operate them have links with the NSA. Moreover, they openly gather your browsing information and sell it for profit.
Examples of info your browser collects that can be used against you include:
Switching to incognito mode and altering the settings of your regular browser wonít fully protect you. Your IP address, and therefore, your location, will be exposed to every webpage that you check out. Hence, itís a must to take more drastic measures.
Fortunately, many safe internet browsers are available. The majority are free and easy to use. When used, no data of yours will be recorded. Because of that, even when government authorities force them to disclose your information, theyíll have nothing to give.
Here are some highly-rated browsers that are known to be safe:
Despite all their perks, secure browsers still donít hide your IP address. Thus, it is necessary to use them alongside a reliable VPN. With it, your digital privacy will drastically get fortified. Itíll be next to impossible for third parties to find out your real identity and location.
3. Use Secure Search Engines
Common search engines such as Google and Bing are data traps. Both collect and store things like your query search terms, cookie ID, date and time of queries, and IP address. The reason they claim to do this is to give you a better searching experience.
To be safe, always use a secure search engine that doesnít collect user data. You wonít have to spend a dime to download them since theyíre usually free. My top picks on the market are:
While these search engines can keep you secure on their own, it would be better to use them alongside a secure browser. If possible, itís nice to have a VPN running on top of everything so nobody could ever gather your data.
4. Use Secure Email Providers
Email is the oldest and most formal method of communication on the internet. Sad to say, it isnít the safest one. With every message sent, avenues for data theft are opened. Troublemakers may then easily take advantage and steal your information.
To ensure that no one obtains your info, you should ditch email solutions like Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail. Replace them with services like Tutanota or ProtonMail. These email solutions have fully encrypted mailboxes, making them extremely secure.
Another way to fortify email security is to double the encryption of your email serviceís inbox. Itís quite easy to do this. Simply download a browser extension (free or paid) that fully encrypts your messages and attachments.
Putting It All Together
The globeís surveillance alliances have watchful eyes that make it essential to fortify your online and offline privacy. In addition, they serve as a massive obstacle for the VPN industry. Luckily, it is possible to keep them at bay. By taking the measures stated above, youíll be more than able to stay safe and protect your digital privacy.
When picking out a VPN, remember to do your research. Donít ever settle on the cheapest service available. Instead, choose one thatís got excellent track records when it comes to maintaining the privacy and anonymity of its users.
Your VPN is the ultimate tool to keep safe online. Hence, itís essential
that you make the right investment and get the best one money can buy. In
doing so, you will get to prevent your and your entire family from becoming
targets of the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes Alliances.