Ever wondered what does Fourteen Eyes surveillance alliances, Five Eyes, and Nine Eyes? In simple terms, they are alliances of international surveillance.
People are becoming more aware of global surveillance across the world. As a result, their curiosity regarding the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes surveillance alliances is increasing.
The three terms, Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes, are common to the privacy community. They are a major component of the talk around privacy tools such as VPNs.
In simpler words, the three alliances are of international surveillance. Their aim is to collect mass surveillance data around the world and share it with each other. Each alliance has a set number of countries associated with it, as the names suggest.
The policies of these alliances date back to as far as World War Two as the first was made on March 5, 1946. They have been spying on people throughout the world for many decades now.
States practice data surveillance with the help of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They continuously use the help of ISPs and other tech companies to target major infrastructure for surveillance.
This means that your local ISP is working with the state to spy on you. It is not easy to accept this at first, but this has been backed and documented in the PRISM surveillance documents and also the infamous Room 641a example with AT&T and the NSA.
However, there are ways that you can integrate to keep yourself safe from surveillance. We will be discussing them shortly.
Now let’s understand Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes alliances separately!
What are the Five Eyes Countries?
What is a Five Eyes Alliance?
As mentioned earlier, the alliances have a history dating back to the second world war. The Five Eyes Alliance is the one that was initiated in the second world and around the UKUSA Agreement.
The agreement was signed right after the war ended in 1946. This agreement gave the UK and the USA a formal right to gather and share intelligence with each other. The partnership remained alive during the Cold War. From then onward, it has only gotten stronger. The major kick-off was received when the Global War on Terror was initiated in the early 2000s.
A new approach to look at the Five Eyes alliance was brought into place by Edward Snowden. In the year 2013, he exposed the activities of the United States government and its allies in surveillance.
Let’s have a look at some of the examples where countries from the Five Eyes alliance have abused online privacy:
1. United Kingdom
The Investigatory Powers Act was passed in 2016 in the UK. This allowed the ISPs and telecoms in the UK to record text messages, connection times, and browsing histories. The stored data was made available to the UK government, which was shared with the alliance as well. This collection and sharing of data are still practiced today without any legal warrant.
2. United States
With the aid of ISPs and large telecoms, the United States government has been successfully practicing Orwellian mass surveillance collection methods. To add to this, the US government gave the ISPs the legal authority to record the activities of users and sell them to third parties in 2017. The ISPs have been collecting all the data since way back. However, the law passed in 2017 also gave them the legal authority to do so.
Similar to what the United Kingdom has done, Australia has also followed its footsteps and implemented sharing data retention laws.
The Five Eyes alliance is known to comprise of the most powerful surveillance agencies throughout the world. These include the NSA based in the United States as well as GCHQ based in the United Kingdom.
Another thing to worry about Five Eyes countries is the level of authority they possess to make companies collect and share data. For instance, the Patriot Act in the United States gave rise to the next level of power for the data collection on the federal level. Similar trends are known to be found in other countries of the alliance, such as Australia and the UK.
What are the Nine Eyes Countries?
What is a Nine Eyes Alliance?
The Nine Eyes Alliance was introduced to the world after the Snowden revelation of 2013 (find out more about the timeline of online privacy). They have become well known ever since. There is nothing different in the Nine Eyes alliance than the Five Eyes alliance. Everything that makes up the Five Eyes alliance is what makes up the Nine Eyes alliance.
They follow the same rules and implement the same practices. The only difference is that the Nine Eyes is an extension of the Five Eyes. It includes four more countries than the original Five Eyes.
What are the Fourteen Eyes Countries?
What is a Fourteen Eyes Alliance?
Similar to the Nine Eyes alliance, the Fourteen Eyes Alliance came into existence as an extension of the original surveillance agreement. This alliance comprises fourteen countries, as the name suggests. However, it goes by the official name SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR).
What Does the Surveillance Mean for VPN Users and How to Avoid the Surveillance?
All those who use the Internet and VPNs are directly impacted by the data collection and sharing practices of the involved countries. If any of the fourteen countries involved in the alliances receive your data, you can safely assume that it can be shared with the remaining countries.
Who has access to your first-hand data depends on who has jurisdiction over your online activities while using the VPN. There is more than one factor to consider here. It could either be based on your physical location or the location of the server. It can also depend on where the VPN provider you’re using is headquartered. If you want to keep your data safe and sound, it is recommended that you figure out the practices and laws of all three.
Knowledge can do wonders for you!
In order to keep yourself safe from data collection and sharing, you need to have information regarding the laws of the country you reside in. You need to figure out things like whether using VPN is legal or illegal. Most countries do allow the use of a VPN, but in some cases like Turkey, Russia, and others it is considered illegal.
Another key thing to consider is the country of the VPN provider you are using. If you are using a VPN that is based in one of the fourteen countries of the alliance, your online privacy is in big trouble. So, avoid choosing VPN providers from among the fourteen countries.
The country where the VPN provider is based can force it to share the private information of its user base with the government. The government can then share it with other countries, especially if it is part of one of the alliances. The scary part is that you may never find out that your privacy even got invaded in the first place.
Therefore, in order to be completely safe and cautious, you need to have knowledge about the VPN provider and the country it is based in. You also have to be aware of the location of the server you are using and the surveillance practices in that country. This is even more important than the VPN provider’s business location.
Why No-Log Policies Are Important
There are many VPNs out there that have strict no-logs policies. No-log policies enable them to not retain any kind of identifying data about the user’s online activities. VPNs have this policy because there are numerous ways by which a VPN can fall under the jurisdiction of many governments. Therefore, VPNs that have a no-log policy are the safest options available.
However, in many cases, claiming to offer a no-log policy is not enough. This applies best to the VPN providers who are either based in the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, Fourteen Eyes alliances, or fall under their jurisdiction in any way.
NSA and GCHQ Cooperation Within 5 Eyes
The close relationship between GCHQ and NSA has become pretty evident over the years. This happened because of the government document releases coming out through official FOIA channels over the years. Both of these surveillance agencies are considered the most powerful throughout the globe. Moreover, they go back a long way in terms of historical ties. Therefore, their close relationship with each other should be no surprise.
The close workings of both entities continue to this day, as made evident by a top-secret NSA document release dating back to 1985. It was released by a FOIA request in 2018. It is still based on the UKUSA Agreement, which states:
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.
Apart from this, there was another release of a top-secret NSA document dating back to 1997. This document was also released in 2018 and provided further evidence on the close workings of the two entities:
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.
VPNs That Lie in the Unsafe Jurisdiction of 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance
US-based VPN Services
Private Internet Access
UK-based VPN Services
Canada-based VPN Services
Australia and New Zealand based VPN Services
Recommended VPN Services (that lie in the safe jurisdictions)
ExpressVPN is a huge player in the VPN market. This provider is situated in the British Virgin Islands. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about 5 Eyes and the other alliances as much if you consistently use this VPN.
- Super fast and simple VPN
- Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e. Netflix)
- 3000+ servers in 94 countries
NordVPN is one of the biggest VPNs out there. Their company’s headquarters is situated in Panama. This country isn’t a part of the 5, 9 or 14 Eyes alliances.
- Excellent protection and a large network of servers
- Nice and pleasing application
- No logs
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. You can explore more about CyberGhost in our in-depth review.
- Very user-friendly
- High quality for a low price
- Torrents and Netflix are possible
An Analysis of VPN Legalities in 38 Countries of the World
This analysis of 35 countries will help you have a better understanding of which country may or may not monitor your VPN usage or online activities.
Let’s get started!
- Australia is a member of all Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPNs in Australia
From a general point of view, there are no limitations or restrictions placed on the use or access of the internet in Australia. Moreover, it is legal to use VPNs in the country.
The thing to worry about is that Australia is one of the original and important members of the Five Eyes alliance. If your data somehow ends up in the jurisdiction of Australia, you cannot save your privacy from being breached since it is in an intelligence-sharing agreement.
Australia has a requirement for all telecom companies to collect and store data for two years. Australia is also known for having many cases of law enforcement authorities using private data of users.
- Belarus is not a member of any alliances
- It is illegal to use VPN in Belarus
Belarus has allowed internet access to a majority of the citizens in the country. However, the content passes through heavy censorship by the government. All web pages on the internet against the government are blocked. This practice is pretty common during the season of elections.
Belarus has also made it illegal to use a VPN for the citizens. A heavy fine is charged if you fail to abide by this law and are caught accessing the web through a VPN.
- Belgium is a member of Fourteen Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Belgium
Belgium promotes freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Therefore, there are no restrictions on access to the internet. Moreover, the censorship board lets through the majority of the content.
Nevertheless, the country has strong policies against illegal activities online. Therefore, the ISPs in the country are subject to warrants. Moreover, websites involved in illegal activities are sometimes required to be blocked by the ISPs. If any user is known to deny a holocaust or is involved in incitement to hatred receives prison time.
4. The British Virgin Islands
- The British Virgin Islands is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPNs in the British Virgin Islands
Even though the British Virgin Islands fall under the United Kingdom’s territory, they have their own separate government and laws and policies. Therefore, it is not a part of any surveillance alliances which the UK is a part of. So, VPN users based here have an edge.
Moreover, no telecommunication entity is subject to collect or share any data of the users online, and surveillance is of the limits.
- Bulgaria is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPNs in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is also among the countries which promote freedom of press and freedom of speech. Moreover, it has laws made for arbitrary government interference with people’s privacy.
However, the country has often faced backlash for allowing the prosecution to request private data of users without authority from the court. Even though there exist no reports against it, the country has faced criticism for corruption in the media and government with regards to compromise on the freedom of speech and press as well as the safety of journalists.
- Canada is a member of all Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPNs in Canada
On the face, Canada promotes freedom of speech and press. Moreover, the government has repeatedly shown its support for net neutrality. The country has also committed to providing internet to the users without any restrictions. However, despite all this, Canada is one of the original members of the Five, Nine, and Fourteen Eyes alliances. Therefore, all the data that passes through Canada and is stored falls under intelligence-sharing agreements.
7. Cayman Islands
- The Cayman Islands is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPNs in the Cayman Islands
Like the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands is an autonomous territory in the Caribbean Sea associated with the British constitutional monarchy. The Cayman Islands also has its own legislation and policies governing privacy and electronic data. The territory passed a comprehensive Data Protection Law in 2017 that reflects many of the principles underlying the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a legal framework strongly safeguarding privacy and consumer data.
- China is not a member of any alliance
- It is only legal to use VPNs in China which are approved by the government
Freedom House has time over time, rated China as the worst abuser of the internet in the world. Telecommunications companies are strictly instructed to follow the rules and regulations. If they fail to do so, they are subject to hefty fines, especially after a new cybersecurity law, which has further restricted online freedom.
Moreover, apart from intense surveillance and censorship, China also requires all internet companies for real-name registration and data localization. Telecommunication companies are also required to share data with the government during investigations. China’s laws are not only subject to local companies. All foreign companies are also required to adhere to all Chinese laws regarding surveillance and the collection and sharing of data, including Apple.
VPN providers are required to ask permission from the government in order to provide access to the network. Moreover, any person accessing international networks via the VPNs, which are not approved by the government, is charged with fines if caught.
9. Czech Republic
- The Czech Republic is not a member of any alliances.
- It is legal to use a VPN in the Czech Republic
Even though the Czech Republic promotes freedom of speech and does not necessarily put restrictions on internet access, there exist a few exceptions. Denial of the holocaust, denial of communist-era crimes, and hate speech falls under the category of protected speech.
Moreover, websites that allow access to unregulated and untaxed foreign lotteries are subject to blockage from the ISPs on the order of the government. Content that promotes racism and child pornography is also restricted by some ISPs. Moreover, there exist no cases where the government was accused of surveilling the online activity of users.
- Denmark is a member of both Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Denmark
Denmark also falls in the group of countries that promote freedom of speech and have laws in place against any sort of censorship. Online content in Denmark is only subject to a few restrictions only made obligated by the government. However, all key ISPs in Denmark are actively working with the police to block child pornography. Moreover, some ISPs have even blocked specific torrent websites.
However, being a part of both Nine and Fourteen Eyes alliances, any data which passes through and is stored in Denmark is subject to intelligence-sharing agreements.
- Finland is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Finland
Finland has not placed any restrictions on internet access for its users. However, websites that are known to display child pornography are subject to blocks from most ISPs. At first, it was the Finish police which encouraged the block on child pornography. However, over time it became voluntary.
- France is a member of both Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in France
Even though France promotes freedom of speech and allows unrestricted internet access to users, there have been several instances where the government has worked against terrorist threats and fake news. As a result, France has indulged in greater surveillance practices, which requires the sharing of data among the Fourteen Eyes countries.
- Germany is a member of Fourteen Eyes Alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Germany
Germany has repeatedly promoted respect for the privacy of internet users as well as freedom of speech. However, it has done so to a certain limit. Germany’s power over surveillance has been increased both nationally and internationally as a result of several pieces of legislation that have been passed over the years. The police have the authority to monitor the activities of citizens at all times. Moreover, there are laws for censorship against hate speech.
- Gibraltar is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Gibraltar
Gibraltar also falls under the territory of the British. However, like the British Virgin Islands, it also has its own laws, legislation, and government. Nonetheless, when it comes to security and foreign policy, it is the UK that holds the authority. As a result, despite not being a direct part of the alliances, Gibraltar is not free of the Fourteen Eyes alliance.
- Greece is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Greece
Greece is one of the countries that promote freedom of press and speech. Moreover, there exist no cases or evidence of the government interfering in the internet activity of the users. However, the judiciary system has given the police the right to monitor the online activities and data of citizens.
16. Hong Kong
- Hong Kong is not a member of any alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Hong Kong
Hong Kong falls under the territory of China. However, it self-governs and maintains autonomy from any Chinese surveillance and data sharing laws. Conversely, the government has been known to practice surveillance through ISPs. Moreover, there have been concerns of interference from China in Hong Kong’s surveillance as it attempts to increase its control in the region.
- Iran is not a member of any alliances
- It is only legal to use VPNs in Iran which are approved by the government
Freedom House has rated internet freedom as highly restricted in Iran. There have been numerous protests against government restrictions on significant social media platforms. These protests have resulted in major disruptions of internet connections. Government permission is mandatory for all VPN providers. Anyone caught using a VPN provider who does not have government permission can be subjected to one year in prison.
- Israel is not a direct member rather a third-party contributor to the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Israel
Israel is also an advocate of freedom of speech on the internet. The government has no cases against it regarding the censorship of online content. Additionally, even though it is not a formal member of any alliance, Israel has been known to be closely working with the USA on surveillance. This is mainly because Israel has better surveillance agencies than NSA.
- Italy is a member of the Fourteen Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Italy
Italy’s citizens enjoy unrestricted internet access for the most part. It also promotes freedom of expression. However, it still has put up filters against content that promotes gambling and child pornography.
Telecommunication companies are required to retain data for up to 6 years in Italy, which raises privacy concerns.
- Japan is suspected of contributing to the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Japan
The Japanese government has prohibited censorship and actively promotes freedom of speech. Residents enjoy internet access without any restrictions apart from some ISPs blocking child pornography.
Many privacy concerns have been raised as the Japanese court has allowed the police to monitor Muslim residents. Moreover, Japan is known to be closely working with the USA on surveillance.
- Malaysia is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Malaysia
Malaysia does not have any constitutional rights to privacy. The government exercises great power over-collection of data. The Fake News Act of 2018 further increased the power of the government over internet freedom.
- Moldova is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Moldova
Moldovans generally enjoy unrestricted internet access but notable legislation and government action prompted the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) to classify the country’s web openness as “selective” when it comes to online political content. Industry stakeholders believe a new bill introduced by the government grants it more power to censor the internet. Authorized to monitor the internet and collect information related to unlawful activities, state agencies have directly interfered with internet access to stem dissent. Even amid the government’s selective surveillance, access to the internet can still be considered unfettered.
- The Netherlands is a member of both Nine and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use a VPN in the Netherlands
The Dutch government provides its citizens with freedom of the internet and unrestricted access. It is also working closely with the Nine Eyes alliance, so data is definitely shared.
24. New Zealand
- New Zealand is a member of all Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in New Zealand
The government does not indulge in censorship and promotes freedom of speech. However, the government has supported ISPs who occasionally want to block specific content online. The country’s intelligence has greatly benefitted from the Five Eyes alliance.
- Norway is a member of both Nine and Fourteen Eyes alliances
- It is legal to use VPN in Norway
Residents of Norway enjoy some of the most unrestricted internet access in the world, both in terms of internet freedom and public access. Citizens have a constitutional right to access government information.
Like much of Europe, some internet providers may voluntarily filter child pornography sites. Norway also has a close intelligence-sharing relationship with foreign nations as part of the Nine Eyes Alliance.
- Panama is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Panama
Citizens of Panama have access to the internet without any restrictions. The law forbids any police or government interference with privacy. No sort of monitoring is allowed unless approval of the judiciary is granted.
- Romania is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Romania
Romania provides internet access without any restrictions. However, it only filters child pornography and exercises power over web sites which do not adhere to the pornography laws. Privacy is respected in the country. It also refuses to comply with most EU data retention laws.
- Russia is not a member of any alliance
- It is only legal to use VPNs in Iran which are approved by the government
The Freedom House has regarded internet access in Russia as not free. Russia is known to practice intense surveillance practices. It filters out the content which is not in favor of the state authorities. It violates the privacy of users both on a national as well as international level. All VPN providers require permission from the government. Fines are charged on people who use VPNs who don’t have approval from the government.
29. San Marino
- San Marino is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in San Marino
The government body in San Marino promotes freedom of speech and disregards censorship of content. It does not monitor the online activities of its citizens or shares their data.
- Seychelles is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Seychelles
Seychelles is not influenced by any intelligence-sharing agreements. Citizens enjoy unrestricted and free internet access. However, the country has strict laws against defamation.
- Singapore is not a direct member rather a third-party contributor to the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Singapore
The government of Singapore has blocked many websites but have kept the list confidential. Residents do enjoy internet access, however the government actively censors most content. The government also works with Five Eyes in intelligence sharing.
- Slovakia is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Slovakia
Slovakia’s constitution safeguards the freedoms of speech and the press. However, media outlets occasionally experience political pressure. Even if the government’s relations with journalists is, Slovakia still earns a “free” rating from the Freedom House primarily due to the state’s minimal to zero interference in citizens’ internet access. With the exception of sites spreading hate speech, state authorities do not monitor emails, online chat rooms, and other activities without judicial oversight.
33. South Korea
- South Korea is not a direct member rather a third-party contributor to the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in South Korea
South Korea experiences restrictions on freedom of speech. Even though there are right to privacy for the citizens, ISPs are encouraged by the government to create a real-name system for users. Moreover, it has been known to be working with the Five Eyes alliance.
- Spain is a member of Fourteen Eyes Alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Spain
Spain is known for its solid laws for the protection of freedom of speech as well as privacy and personal data. However, these are undermined due to its membership in the Fourteen Eyes alliance.
- Sweden is a member of Fourteen Eyes Alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Sweden
The Swedish government is against any sort of censorship and interference of privacy. It promotes freedom of speech and requires court approval for monitoring traffic. However, its allegiance with the Fourteen Eyes alliance undermines its support for privacy.
- Switzerland is not a member of any alliance
- It is legal to use VPN in Switzerland
Switzerland is the country where internet freedom is respected, and privacy is not breached. Privacy breaches are punishable by law, and citizens have the right to freedom of speech. Even though the citizens collectively approved a referendum that gave the government permission to monitor their online activities, there have been no cases for this power being abused.
37. United Kingdom
- The United Kingdom is the founding member of the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use a VPN in the United Kingdom
Even though it is their right to privacy and freedom of information and expression, the government actively practices surveillance. They back this action by claiming that it is required to fight child abuse and terrorism. Moreover, since it is one of the founding members of the Five Eyes alliance, it has access to a vast range of international surveillance and intelligence.
38. United States of America
- The United States of America is the founding member of the Five Eyes alliance
- It is legal to use a VPN in the USA
On the face, the United States of America is a strong advocate for freedom of speech and press. It also supports the rights to privacy. However, the USA has been found to be a part of many surveillance controversies.
Moreover, being one of the founding members of the Five Eyes alliance, the US has access to a pretty big network of surveillance systems. As a result, it has access to a wide variety of international surveillance and intelligence.