5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, 14 Eyes: Protect Yourself From Global Surveillance

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5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, 14 Eyes: A Quick Guide

The terms 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes refer to government surveillance alliances established across different countries. Member nations can monitor and log internet activity gleaned from online users and share it across borders.

Agreements are all in the name of national security and the pursuit of criminal justice, though Edward Snowden’s 2013 NSA leaks have proven otherwise. Furthermore, by calling on allied nations, governments can keep tabs on their citizens even in places where there are legal provisions against doing so.

The 5, 9, and 14 refer to the number of countries in each alliance. Here’s a rundown:

  • 5 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  • 9 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway.
  • 14 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, and Spain.

If you want to remain anonymous in spite of this global surveillance effort, a VPN is your best bet. As long as it’s not headquartered in one of the 14 eyes countries, it can keep you anonymous online. A good option to consider is the Panama-based NordVPN:

Getting a good VPN is just the start. Want to learn more about the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes and how to protect yourself against mass surveillance? Keep reading on!

Eye on Laptop

While it’s common knowledge that most governments run mass surveillance programs, many might not know the extent to which it happens.

Just how intrusive governments can get with people’s data is a surprise for many people.

How well governments collaborate in order to exchange that data — that too can be shocking. Sharing surveillance information across international borders is the purpose of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances.

But which countries are in these alliances? How does international surveillance swapping work, and how did it start? Most importantly, how do you keep your online activity from being spied on by the government? We’ve broken it all down in the full guide below.

What Are the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances?

The 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes are alliances between different governments that enable collaboration between state agencies, with the purpose of sharing data about private citizens.

Originally, there were just five countries that worked together after the Second World War to coordinate intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union. As the years went on, the so-called “5 Eyes Alliance” expanded to include other countries. Now, there are three main alliances, and they vary in the degree to which the countries cooperate with each other.

Though everyone cooperates, 5 Eyes countries work much more closely with each other than they do with 9 Eyes or 14 Eyes countries.

Here’s a breakdown of which countries belong to each alliance:

Infographic showing five, nine and fourteen Eyes alliancesOther friendly countries or potential future partners include Israel, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea.

What kind of data do these alliances collect and exchange?

All of the countries above (and plenty more) run surveillance campaigns to collect data about their citizens. In theory, this is to serve the interest of national security — which is oftentimes the case in practice as well. Many terrorist plots have been foiled and international criminals caught thanks to these practices. However, national security can compromise the privacy of the average citizen.

Governments of 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes and 14 eyes countries can collect and store your online activity, including websites you’ve visited, internet search history, private messages, emails, phone calls, or video calls. This can be done through data gained from an Internet Service Provider (ISP), online trackers, or other third-party surveillance methods.

If they can’t surveil directly, countries can even use other members of the alliance to spy on their citizens to work a loophole and not break their own privacy laws.

What can you do?

So let’s say you live in a country that’s in the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes alliance. Your search history, personal data, IP address, the websites you visit, and more can be easily tracked should somebody want to. All of that data could also switch hands between governments.

The easiest way to avoid your sensitive data falling in the wrong hands is to use a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will change your IP address, encrypt your online traffic, and make you more anonymous online. We’ve compiled a list of the best VPNs outside the 14 Eyes, and if you value your privacy, we can recommend our No. 1 pick, NordVPN:

NordVPN
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However, a VPN is not enough to completely hide your online identity. To start, there are a host of anonymous email services, as well as privacy-geared browsers and search engines you can use. We’ll delve more into that later on.

The Origin of 5 Eyes

Infographic showing 5 eyes alliance

The original 5 Eyes (or Five Eyes) Alliance was formed in the 1940s, following the end of the Second World War.

The idea started as intelligence-sharing agreements between the United States and the United Kingdom, which later evolved into the UKUSA agreement. This enabled the United States and the United Kingdom to exchange intelligence more easily during standoffs with the Soviet Union.

As Commonwealth nations with similar legal systems and geopolitical interests, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the UKUSA agreement shortly thereafter.

This is how the Five Eyes Alliance, also known as the FVEY, was born.

5 Eyes Develop the ECHELON Surveillance System

Amid Cold War tensions in the 1960s, the FVEY began developing a system that allowed them to intercept military and diplomatic communication between the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc Communist nations. By 1971, the 5 Eyes nations had formally dubbed this the ECHELON surveillance system.

ECHELON had proven itself highly effective for monitoring the USSR and Communist countries, but once the Iron Curtain fell, intelligence-sharing efforts were not abandoned, and surveillance across borders pressed on.

By the end of the 1990s, whistleblowers and public disclosures revealed that the capabilities of ECHELON had extended into intercepting commercial and private communication via phone, fax, and computer and storing them on government servers.

The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent “War on Terror” were used to argue for the continuation and increase in monitoring tactics in the United States and beyond.

With the rise of internet communication, the focus of surveillance naturally shifted to emails, messages, and other online activities. Intelligence agencies still use ECHELON to monitor the communication of billions of citizens worldwide today.

Expanding the 5 Eyes Intelligence Alliance: 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes

With the advancement of the ECHELON system and data exchange between 5 Eyes countries, alliances were expanded further, and mass surveillance was facilitated on a global scale.

We, the general public, found out about all of this in the wake of Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks. That’s when details about the ECHELON program (as well as PRISM, and other programs) were made public. It’s also when the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances were more visibly exposed.

Over time, the 5 Eyes alliance expanded to include other countries in its massive international intelligence-sharing agreements. These different alliances have grown into a large network of countries that share sensitive information with each other, to differing degrees.

The 9 Eyes Alliance

Infographic showing 9 eyes alliance

The nine eyes countries include the original 5 Eyes, as well as the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Norway.

While 9 Eyes is mostly an expansion of 5 Eyes, cooperation between these nine countries is less intense than is the case with 5 Eyes. Despite the leaks and supposed pledges to transparency, how these alliances operate is still relatively unclear.

The 14 Eyes Alliance

Infographic showing 14 eyes alliance

Finally, there’s the fourteen Eyes alliance, which includes Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. Here, too, the goal is to obtain information and share that with one another when necessary.

However, the Fourteen Eyes alliance is not as strict and intense in its cooperation as 9 Eyes and 5 Eyes are. Regardless, these 14 countries share sensitive information with each other without having to go through too much trouble. This information can even include private communication between citizens.

How to Protect Yourself Against Mass Surveillance

A bigger and bigger part of our lives takes place on the internet. That’s why online privacy is becoming so crucial.

Online users need to understand things like the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes intelligence alliances. Though undoubtedly impressive, these international cooperation projects for intelligence agencies are a threat to your privacy.

You might sleep tight at night thinking that your government doesn’t spy on you. But who’s to say they don’t have foreign countries do it for them? All in the name of national security, of course.

If you want to ensure intelligence sharing doesn’t include your data, you can take these safety precautions:

  • Use a pseudonym and anonymous email address. ProtonMail is a good place to start creating an anonymous identity online. But read our roundup about the best email providers for privacy if you want more.
  • Switch to a privacy-oriented browser. The Tor browser is one of the best browsers if you care about anonymity and personal protection. Popular browsers like Chrome give up all kinds of data on you. Check out the best browsers for privacy to pick up a better alternative.
  • Update your privacy settings. Apps like Facebook, YouTube, and even your Mac operating system have privacy-oriented settings that you can toggle. You might as well share as little as possible using the settings available.
  • Don’t overshare. With things like the Wayback Machine, there’s no true way to ever delete data off the internet permanently. Once it’s out there, it’s out of your control.
  • Use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network can hide your IP and secure your online connection through rigorous security protocols.

Best VPNs Outside the 14 Eyes Alliance

ISPs (Internet Service Providers) often do the work of tracking your online activity, storing it, and at times handing it over to the government. A VPN is (among other things) one way you can hide your internet activity from your ISP. A VPN masks your true IP address (which gives away your location and connection) letting you surf the web anonymously. It does this by assigning you a VPN server’s anonymous IP from anywhere in the world.

However, there’s one thing that should be noted: if you want to 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. Many providers might be forced to hand over information simply because their HQ is located in, for example, the United States (as is the case with StrongVPN).

Some examples of premium VPN providers that aren’t subject to the mass surveillance of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes or 14 Eyes nations are NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost.


NordVPN: Based in Panama

Screenshot of NordVPN provider website homepage

NordVPN is our highest-ranked VPN. Their company’s headquarters is situated in Panama, which isn’t a part of the 5, 9, or 14 Eyes alliances.

But it goes much further than just not collaborating with 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes nations. NordVPN is the best VPN you can pick, because it offers:

  • Online security with its 256-bit AES encryption tech
  • A strict zero-logs policy
  • An impressive network of servers
  • Hard-to-beat speeds and server connections
  • 30-day period to try it out

And if you pay more than a year in advance, you can get it at a very competitive price.

NordVPN
Our pick
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Only $2.99 a month for a two-year subscription with a 30-day money-back guarantee!
From
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  • Nice and pleasing application
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ExpressVPN: Set up in neutral BVI

Screenshot of ExpressVPN provider website homepage

ExpressVPN is one of the best options for people that aren’t familiar with VPNs, and don’t mind paying for premium. While it’s on the more expensive side, it’s incredibly fast and easy to use.

It’s based in the British Virgin Isles, which has its own jurisdiction separate from the UK. This means your data will be safe from exchange between 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries.

It also appeared in our list of best no log VPN providers, since they’ve proven they won’t record any user activity on their servers.

On top, ExpressVPN is a great VPN thanks to these elements and features:

  • A simple, bare-bones user interface on all of its applications
  • No-logs policy
  • Five simultaneous connections
  • Unbeatable speeds and server connections
  • Military-grade, 256-bit AES encryption

Interested? You can go straight to the ExpressVPN website by clicking the orange button below.

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  • 3000+ servers in 94 countries
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CyberGhost: HQ in Romania

Screenshot of Cyberghost provider website homepage

CyberGhost is another popular VPN. This provider has teams working in both Romania and Germany. However, their main office is in Romania, which places them outside of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes jurisdiction. Not to mention, CyberGhost is really affordable, and it’s very easy to use.

Here are other perks to using CyberGhost:

  • Beginner-friendly software
  • No logs policy
  • Extremely affordable
  • Generous 45 days money-back guarantee
  • 256-bit AES encryption

If that’s music to your ears, you can visit their website and check out their cheap subscriptions by clicking the button below.

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Final Thoughts

The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 eyes countries form a gigantic western alliance that exchanges sensitive information and uses mass surveillance. It has become a near-global spying network.

The agreements of the alliances enable these countries to bypass their national privacy laws and still get their hands on more information than they should have.

As a result, if you live in one of the 14 Eyes countries, your government could be sharing any information with government agencies in the other 13. Therefore, it’s important to employ online privacy best practices, and invest in a good VPN.

5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes: Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question about the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the queries below to see the answer.

The terms 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes refer to collaborative efforts between countries that monitor, log, and exchange mass surveillance data. These countries gather information about their citizens and can share it with each other when needed. Many have referred to it as a global spying network.

A VPN can be very effective when you want to protect yourself against Mass Surveillance. When you connect with the VPN server, your IP address will change to the VPN Server’s IP. Your online actions can now only be traced back to the VPN server and not to you.

Just make sure you choose a VPN that isn’t based in one of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes countries. We’ve rounded up the top three providers in our guide.

It is important that you choose a VPN provider that isn’t located in one of the countries of the 5, 9 and 14 Eyes partnerships. VPN providers from these countries may be forced by the government to provide information about their customers’ online activities.

We recommend NordVPN. This provider is based in Panama, tucked away far from the alliances’ line of sight. NordVPN has also proven it keeps no logs and is one of the most secure, and reliable virtual private networks out there.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.
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  1. Is there a security risk in using a VPN server that’s located in one of these countries, even if the VPN is based somewhere else?

    • Generally, the location of the provider itself is more important than the location of your chosen server. If you want to be extra cautious, you can take the Eyes coalitions into account when choosing your VPN server, but as long as your VPN has a proven no logging policy, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

  2. What is the possibility of other countries not aligned with 5/9/14 Eyes having their own surveillance alliance that have not yet been exposed to the public?

    • There’s always a chance, however small, that governments or other organizations are working on secret surveillance systems that aren’t known to us yet, especially in countries where censorship is an important tool used to keep citizens under control. We try to keep as up-to-date on each country’s situation as possible. You can read about any information that is public in our censorship section.

  3. Excellently described.
    Can we know which year the 9 eyes agreement was made? I believe in the 1990s but was it under George HW Bush or Bill Clinton?

    • As far as we can tell, no public information is available that reveals an exact year when the agreement was formed. It’s not backed by any treaty, and is really an extension of 9 Eyes, but at slightly less intense levels. The only reason we know as much about it as we do, is because of the data leaked in 2013 by Edward Snowden.

  4. Excellent overview of information, even for novice such as me. Thanks for well organized article with excellent graphics. Am a new VPN user and was unfamiliar with the “eye” reference and you answered it perfectly. Many thanks. Great job. Would be interested in your take on the recent leak of info allegedly about PIA, particularly whether the year or multi year products are less robust than the monthly subscription app.

    • Thank you for the compliment! Concerning your comments about PIA: could you specify what leak you’re referring to? We haven’t had any issues with PIA and are unaware of any current leaks or problems concerning the VPN service.

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