With every passing year, our digital rights seem to be further eroded. The true extent of data logging by governments around the world isn’t fully known.
In a nutshell, the Five Eyes, the Nine Eyes, and the Fourteen Eyes are different (but very similar) government ‘alliances’, all of whom log your private data.
The number, for example “5”, refers to the number of countries involved. The 5 Eyes alliance comprises the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
It is disheartening that these alliances were first formed to combat global terrorism and conduct war-time espionage – yet they have become notorious for subjecting innocent individuals to mass surveillance. The member countries collect and scrutinize data from a wide variety of sources, including phone and internet communications, and then share this information with other members, thus expanding their collective knowledge of everything you do online.
Overview: Which countries take part?
Here’s a quick reference so you can see if your country is part of some, none, or all of these ‘alliances’:
|Country||👁️ Five Eyes||👁️ Nine Eyes||👁️ Fourteen Eyes|
|New Zealand 🇳🇿||❗||❗||❗|
These “alliances” can be traced all the way back to World War II, when the USA and the UK first formalized intelligence sharing together. I doubt anyone could have imagined back then how it’d morph into what it is now – one of the biggest state-sponsored spying alliances in the world, with each member in the “alliance” cooperating with each other by sharing their surveillance activities.
Gradually, more and more countries joined the alliance and now the Fourteen Eyes is made up of most of the western world. If you don’t think this is right, or if you seek to guard your online privacy from government spying, – whether it’s the Five Eyes, Fourteen Eyes, or any other state actor you’re trying to mask your activity from – an easy way to do this is by using a VPN. Why? Because a VPN will encrypt your internet traffic and conceal your true IP address. I’ll cover the basics on all this shortly.
What sort of data is collected?
Governments, in the name of national security, conduct surveillance campaigns to gather all sorts of data. While the advertised purpose is to “safeguard against potential threats”, these practices often come at the expense of individual privacy.
So what kind of data is harvested? Well, how about all this: your internet search history, all websites you’ve visited, private messages, emails, phone calls, and video calls. This information is acquired through Internet Service Providers (ISPs), online trackers, and other third-party surveillance methods that most people aren’t even aware exist – even some security experts.
Even if these allainces aren’t doing surveillance directly, they may rely on other members of the alliance to spy on their country’s citizens. They do this by exploiting a loophole to avoid breaching their own privacy laws. This is a common ruse – governments get other governments to spy on their own citizens so that they themselves avoid breaking the law. How this is legal, I don’t know.
Should I be worried?
The possibility of your gathered data being misused looms large, even *if* such surveillance activities have sometimes helped foil terrorist plots or enabled the apprehension of major criminals. It’s critical that you remain vigilant and take all measures necessary to protect your personal data. Why? Because it can easily be used against you.
There is little to no oversight – how long is your intelligence data being kept for? Who has access to it? Will it ever be deleted? For while governments may tout national security as justification for these practices, it is the opinion of VPN Hound that the individual’s right to privacy is always more important.
I don’t live in a 5/9/14 Eyes country, should I care?
Any personal information, search history, IP address, and websites viewed may be monitored by third parties if you live in a country that is a part of either the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes alliances. If you think you live outside their reach, you may want to think again. Studies and leaks have shown that these alliances can and do spy on citizens in almost every part of the world.
The best way to keep private information safe from prying eyes is to use a VPN – why? Because this allows you to mask your online identity by disguising the IP addresses you use, as well as encrypting all data in transit. Here at VPN Hound, we have compiled a list of the best VPN services available outside of the 14 Eyes alliance, and Proton VPN is at the top of our list.
How did this all start?
The Five Eyes (or FVEY) alliance established a sophisticated, global surveillance system during the Cold War period of the 1960s, in order to intercept military communications between the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. By 1971, the members of the group known as the Five Eyes had given this system its official name, ECHELON. Does that sound familar?
Even after the Iron Curtain fell, information-sharing efforts persisted – they should have completely stopped as their original purpose was, presumably, no longer needed.
But they didn’t stop, and things got even worse.
By the end of the 1990s, whistleblowers and journalists finally uncovered ECHELON’s ability to intercept all commercial and private communication, including phone, fax, and internet data, which were all then being stored on government servers for analysis.
The 9/11 attacks and subsequent “War on Terror” served as the perfect pretext for increasing surveillance even more, in particular in the USA. With the rise of internet-based communications, monitoring efforts shifted towards email, messaging, social media, and more. To this day, intelligence agencies continue to utilize ECHELON to keep tabs on billions of individuals’ lives around the globe, largely without their consent or knowledge.
Alliances increased further, more countries signed up to spy on their citizens, and mass monitoring became the reality that it is today.
The breadth and magnitude of all this wasn’t ever brought to the attention of the general public – until brave Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 which shocked the world. The revelation of ECHELON, PRISM, and other secret programs brought the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes coalitions to the notice of the general public for the first time.
What about the Nine Eyes?
Again to clarify, the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are the five nations that make up the original Five Eyes.
The Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Norway are the other four nations that together make up the Nine Eyes.
The precise workings of these coalitions continue to be obscured by mystery and rumor, despite the fact that they have purportedly made commitments to increasing their level of openness (if only!). There’s still loads we don’t know and probably never will about these shady groups.
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What’s the Fourteen Eyes?
The Fourteen Eyes alliance is another even bigger alliance; its members include all of the above countries, plus Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. The purpose of this alliance, much like that of the others, is to collect information and distribute it among the rest of the alliance nations as appropriate.
Though we can never be sure, there are plenty of reasons to suspect that the collaboration among the Fourteen Eyes alliance is not as strong as it is between the 5 Eyes or 9 Eyes groups. Several leaks and whistleblowers have backed this idea up too.
Nonetheless, these nations are able to exchange sensitive information with one another in a very uncomplicated manner, which may include resident’s private conversations, emails, messages, social media records and loads more. The problem is that we just don’t know what kinds of information they sharas it’s classified.
Generally though, protecting yourself with a VPN is an easy way to obscure or even prevent their spying on you.
So in summary, the different alliances all more or less track the same things. Here’s the table summary:
How can I protect myself online?
Since the internet is now such a big part of our daily lives, protecting our privacy while we’re using it has taken on a greater level of significance. You don’t have to be ‘paranoid’ or ‘have something to hide’ in order to care about your digital right to privacy.
It’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that governments are not collecting intelligence on you as a person, but what if they are – and what if they are doing it in secret via other nations in the guise of protecting national security?
You have numerous methods at your disposal to prevent these agencies from gaining access to your data and using it for their own purposes, thankfully. That’s the good news.
Here are some of those preferred ways:
- Use a security technique known as “end-to-end encryption”. This kind of encryption makes it impossible for anybody other than the sender and receiver of a communication to read the contents of the message. Applications such as Signal provide encryption all the way through the messaging process.
- Make use of a password manager. Password managers can generate and store complicated passwords for all of your online accounts. This makes it easy to keep track of all of your passwords while also guaranteeing that each account has a password that is both unique and secure.
- Steer clear of using public Wi-Fi since these networks are often insecure and may enable others include the Five Eyes to access your data easily without your knowledge. If you are forced to use public Wi-Fi, you should seriously consider securing your connection using a VPN – see below.
- As compared to mainstream browsers like Chrome, privacy-focused browsers like Tor are able to provide an additional layer of anonymity and safety. But they’re usually quite slow.
- Delete your social media or if this isn’t an option then adjusting the privacy settings on them may help reduce the amount of personally identifiable information (PIF).
- Use a Virtual Private Network, often known as a VPN. A great option to conceal your Internet Protocol (IP) address while also protecting your internet connection with stringent security procedures.
Five Eyes and VPNs: Which countries offer the most protection?
At the top of the list, we recommend above all using a VPN in Switzerland. Why? Because Switzerland has extremely comprehensive privacy protection legislation.
For example VPN service providers in Switzerland are not allowed to keep logs of their customers’ activity, and the country’s data protection regulations provide robust legal protection for customers’ personal information. In addition, Switzerland is not a member of the Five / Nine / Fourteen Eyes alliances, thus it is not subject to the agreements that these alliances have on the sharing of intelligence. A good VPN provider based in Switzerland is Proton VPN.
Panama is another another nation that is well-known for its stringent privacy protection legislation. If you’re looking for a Panamaian VPN, then NordVPN is a good shout. In Panama, like with Switzerland, VPN providers don’t need to keep logs and it’s not part of any of the ‘alliances’ either. Additionally, Panama has extra data protection laws that provide a higher level of legal protection for personal data, should things go wrong.
Other countries worth a look include Iceland, Romania and the British Virgin Islands (BVI). For the latter, we recommend ExpressVPN as this is where they’re located.
Of course, the most secure VPNs will always be located outside of any Five Eyes territories.
Will using a VPN guarantee that I won’t be tracked?
No. Any website that tells you ‘yes’ here is lying.
It’s crucial to bear in mind that although a VPN can help safeguard your privacy, it’s not a perfect solution by any means. Yes. sure, a VPN will encrypt your internet traffic and make it more difficult for nations that are part of the Five Eyes alliance to track what you do online. But there are still other methods that government agencies use to track you: e.g. hacking, monitoring of other non-VPN devices you use, or even collaborating with other countries outside of the Five Eyes alliance.
That said, a VPN can provide a lot of protection.
|Data Type||Collected by Five Eyes?||Masked by VPNs?|
|Internet browsing history||✔||✅|
|Social media activity||✔||✅|
I need to add some provisos and disclaimers for the above table. It’s really just meant to highlight what information can be protected by a VPN – but individual protection levels can vary. For example, you’re only going to get protection from social media activity logging to an extent, because you’ve already told them your actual name!
Which VPNs are located outside the Five Eyes?
- ExpressVPN – British Virgin Islands
- NordVPN – Panama
- Surfshark – British Virgin Islands
- CyberGhost – Romania
- VyprVPN – Switzerland
- ProtonVPN – Switzerland
- AirVPN – Italy
- Perfect Privacy – Switzerland
- Hide.me – Malaysia
- OVPN – Sweden
Be aware that some of these, such as AirVPN and Perfect Privacy *are* within countries that are part of the Fourteen Eyes.
|VPN (Not in Five Eyes)||Pros||Cons|
|ExpressVPN||🚀 Fast speeds|
🔒 Strong encryption
|💰 Pricier fees|
|NordVPN||🌎 Wide server network|
👥 Supports multiple devices
|📈 Inconsistent speeds|
|Surfshark||💸 Affordable pricing|
🔒 MultiHop feature
|🌍 Smaller server network|
|CyberGhost||🎭 No-logs policy|
🔒 Strong encryption
|📉 Slow speeds with some servers|
|OVPN||💪 Strong privacy protection|
👨💻 No-logs policy
|🌎 Smaller server network|
Frequently Asked Questions
Using a VPN can help to protect your online privacy and make it more difficult for the Five Eyes to monitor your online activities. However, it's important to note that a VPN is not a 100% foolproof solution.
Some VPN's located outside of Five Eyes countries include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark, CyberGhost and OVPN. Using a VPN located outside of Five Eyes countries can give you a bit more privacy protection.
Yes. Using a virtual private network (VPN) that is based in a country that is not a member of the Five Eyes alliance can, on average, provide more privacy protection.