5 9 14 Eyes Explained

5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Explained

Last edited: July 11, 2019
Reading time: 5 minutes, 24 seconds

Eye on LaptopIf you’re interested in privacy, you might have heard of the terms “5 Eyes”, “9 Eyes”, and “14 Eyes”. These terms are used to describe a coalition of countries that work together to obtain and share all sorts of data. Essentially, these countries have now become a near worldwide organisation with access to gigantic bulks of information.

If you live in one of the coalition countries, it might be good to know that your government could be sharing information about you with the other members of those alliances. This has severe consequences for your online privacy. What these 5, 9, and 14 Eyes countries do exactly, how they came to be, and what consequences their actions have for your privacy will all be discussed in this article.

The Origin of 5 Eyes

The original 5 Eyes alliance was formed in the 1940s. It started as a union between the United States and the United Kingdom: the so-called UKUSA agreement. This enabled the United States and the United Kingdom to exchange information more easily. Canada, Australia, and New-Zealand later joined the UKUSA agreement, because they were cooperating Commonwealth countries with a common legal system. This is how the 5 Eyes, also known as the FVEY, was born.

Developing the ECHELON Surveillance System

During the Cold War, the FVEY developed a system that allowed them to intercept Soviet communication. This system, called the ECHELON surveillance system, is now used to monitor the communication of billions of citizens worldwide.

The general public became aware of the ECHELON system in the 90s, which caused a small outrage in Europe as well as in the United States. The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror were used to argue for the continuation and even increase of the monitoring practices. From that moment on, the focus of surveillance shifted to the internet. This makes sense, because the internet was on the rise and at this point most of our communication happens on it.

5 Eyes and the Increase of Spying Worldwide

Keylogger HackerWith the expansion of the ECHELON system and the data exchange between the 5 Eyes countries, it became clear that mass surveillance would become a given worldwide. Even today, communication between country officials or even citizens is intercepted and shared with the other 5 Eyes countries on a large scale. Due to the agreement, the amount of surveillance has only grown over the years.

Legislation in the United States used to state that the NSA is not allowed spy on its own citizens. Because these rules are different in other countries, it can be easier for the United States to have a foreign organization, for instance one from the United Kingdom, spy on their citizens. Because of the 5 Eyes alliance, the United Kingdom can easily share this information with the NSA. This creates the opportunity for countries to bypass their own privacy laws and use mass surveillance on their citizens.

Meanwhile, several new laws on espionage have been introduced in various countries. Currently, the American NSA is allowed to access phone records, track people wherever they are and hack devices if needed. Moreover, the UK has agreed to introduce a new law about espionage and Russia and China have agreed to cooperate when it comes to (cyber) espionage in order to better shield themselves against cyber attacks.

Expanding the 5 Eyes Alliance: 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes

Over time, the 5 Eyes alliance has expanded to include other countries as well. These different alliances have grown into a large network of countries that share sensitive information with each other. This includes communication between citizens and organisations.

The 9 Eyes countries include the original 5 Eyes countries 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. Finally, there’s also the 14 Eyes alliance, which includes the addition of Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. Here, too, the goal is to obtain information and share that with one another when necessary. However, 14 Eyes 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 even reaches to private communication between citizens.

Protect Yourself Against Mass Surveillance

Since more and more of our lives takes place on the internet and online privacy is becoming an important consideration, it’s good to be aware of concepts like the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes alliances. Such projects can potentially invade your privacy. A government agency in your country might intercept your personal communication. Subsequently, they could share this communication, and other personal data, with government agencies in other countries. Your government can do so without your direct permission.

To protect themselves against these forces, some internet users now choose to use a VPN. A VPN is very effective when you want to protect your online privacy and hide your data traffic from prying eyes. However, there’s one thing that should be noted: if you specifically want to use a VPN to make sure you escape the reach of the 5, 9, 14 Eyes countries, you should choose a VPN that isn’t based in one of these countries. Some examples of premium VPN providers that aren’t subject to the mass surveillance of the 14 Eyes countries are:

Overview of 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Countries

Below you can find a quick overview of the countries that make up the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances.

5 Eyes countries 9 Eyes countries 14 Eyes countries
United States United States United States
United Kingdom United Kingdom United Kingdom
Australia Australia Australia
Canada Canada Canada
New-Zealand New-Zealand New-Zealand
The Netherlands The Netherlands
France France
Denmark Denmark
Norway Norway
Belgium
Italy
Germany
Spain
Sweden

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, using a VPN to improve your online privacy might not be such a bad idea. A good VPN ensures that no agency can intercept your internet traffic. You might think you have nothing to hide, but with so many eyes watching, who knows what they might see – and what they might use your information for.

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