Discover the role of VPNs in safeguarding your online privacy against the prying eyes of The Five Eyes in this comprehensive guide. We answer your questions on the hidden layers of surveillance, the implications for your digital freedom, and how a VPN becomes your ally in the quest for a secure and private online experience.
The global landscape of online surveillance has recently led to alliances like the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes, where countries collaborate to monitor their online activities. This collaborative effort involves sharing private information among security partners, all in the name of collective security and the supposed pursuit of a greater good.
Do you reside in one of these participating nations? Then, you must understand the far-reaching consequences of such alliances on individual privacy. Thankfully, this article explores the intricacies of these partnerships and their implications. Let’s get started!
What are the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances?
The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances represent intelligence-sharing agreements among select nations. These countries come together to monitor and exchange information on the activities of internet users.
The 5 Eyes Alliance: Full Overview
For many years, the 5 Eyes alliance was a guarded secret, only coming to light in 2005 when it became a recognized and acknowledged entity. The alliance’s secrecy level was so extreme that, despite Australia’s inclusion in the UKUSA agreement since 1995, Australia’s Prime Minister remained unaware until 1973.
“Five Eyes” is a concise reference for the exclusive UK/US/NZ/CAN/AUS Eyes Only classification level. The alliance’s goal has consistently been the collaborative sharing of foreign intelligence acquired through signal interception, commonly called signals intelligence (SIGINT).
This encompasses electronic intelligence and communications involving signals from radar systems and missile installations. The scope of communications within SIGINT has significantly evolved since the Cold War era. It spams a broad spectrum, from texts and traditional phone calls to internet search records and emails.
The Five Eyes alliance includes the following countries:
- New Zealand
- United States
- United Kingdom
Each country has a distinct stance on monitoring online activities and collecting data. While there are agreements in place prohibiting 5 Eyes countries from spying on their citizens, the revelations brought by Edward Snowden in 2013 described the nature of this practice.
Online Monitoring by the 5 Eyes Countries
The discreet features of the 5 Eyes alliance raise concerns about the need for more oversight regarding legal compliance. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) highlights the potential risk: “The danger is that, through forging broad agreements between these 5 countries, all will end up taking advantage of the lowest privacy standards of each.”
Online Monitoring in the United States
The National Security Agency (NSA) collects signals intelligence (SIGINT) in the United States. As the Patriot Act reauthorization legislation outlines, the National Security Agency can spy on Americans’ online browsing and search histories without a warrant.
The NSA conducted a surveillance program (PRISM) curated to gather data from U.S. companies. PRISM is a program that uses XKeyscore, an NSA database disclosed by Edward Snowden.
Snowden also exposed the existence of a massive National Security Agency database containing the telephone records of the U.S. In 2020, the United States Court of Appeals revealed that the National Security Agency had breached the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Online Monitoring in the United Kingdom
On behalf of the United Kingdom, the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) collects signals intelligence (SIGINT). The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, commonly called the Snoopers’ Charter, allows data to be seized from communication service providers without needing a warrant.
Additionally, these providers are mandated to collect and preserve metadata for a year. In May 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that GCHQ had infringed upon the right to privacy. The GCHQ’s broad monitoring of online communications violated privacy rights, and the collection regime was deemed illegal.
Online Monitoring in Canada
In Canada, SIGINT is managed by the Communication Security Establishment (CSE). While the CSE’s mandate restricts international targeting of private communications belonging to Canadians, the lawful collection of metadata, which is not deemed private, is allowed.
Although the CSE is prohibited from deliberately targeting Canadians, instances have occurred in which it inadvertently gathered data on its citizens, with such actions deemed not illegal. The identities of untargeted Canadians are hidden before intelligence is shared.
Despite Canada’s participation in the coalition, the CSE has refuted assertions that Canada has connections to PRISM.
Online Monitoring in Australia
In Australia, service providers are mandated to store data associated with their services for at least two years. Although preserving communication content is not mandatory, providers may be made to keep and disclose details about the communication’s origin, date, time, and destination.
Furthermore, Australia has enacted a recent “hacking” bill allowing law enforcement to surveil individuals when they use their online devices and accounts.
Online Monitoring in New Zealand
The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is the SIGINT agency in New Zealand. The Intelligence and Security Act 2017 prohibits the GCSB from collecting information on citizens.
A warrant is compulsory to get communications data, including content and metadata. Interestingly, the revelations from the Snowden documents have challenged government denials, revealing that the GCSB actively established a comprehensive metadata surveillance system from 2012 to 2013.
The Nine Eyes Alliance
The 9 Eyes alliance includes the original 5 Eyes collaboration, encompassing Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. These nations have formed an intelligence-sharing partnership to enhance their collective surveillance capabilities. The 9 Eyes Alliance aims to address and counter terrorism and other security threats collectively.
The Fourteen Eyes Alliance
The Fourteen Eyes alliance brings together 14 countries. Initially stemming from the Nine Eyes agreement, it also includes Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden in 2010, expanding their commitment through a series of agreements to enhance intelligence sharing.
The Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes enhance the exchange of intelligence among member nations, contributing to national security and counter-terrorism efforts. Nevertheless, these alliances face criticism for potential privacy and civil liberties violations and transparency and accountability concerns.
Member countries acquire data through monitoring online activities, using ISPs and other trackers, and engaging in phone tapping. The 2013 NSA leaks exposed the FVEY for secret surveillance operations and unauthorized spying on their citizens.
Differences Between the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances
The alliances differ primarily in their membership numbers and the extent of their involvement in surveillance and intelligence sharing. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these alliances.
Five Eyes Alliance
The Five Eyes alliance originated post-World War II when the United Kingdom and the United States collaborated to intercept Soviet activities and share intelligence. This alliance includes the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Nine Eyes Alliance
Beyond the initial Five Eyes, the Nine Eyes alliance emerged during a mission to penetrate mainland Europe. Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Norway joined forces with the initial Five Eyes nations.
Although these four additional countries share resources, they have limited access to the data collected by the core members. The Nine Eyes nations may also exchange intelligence with the NSA or GCHQ.
Fourteen Eyes Alliance
Further expanding the collaboration, the 14 Eyes alliance included five more nations, enhancing the scope of surveillance activities. The additional members are Belgium, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Spain.
Although not as potent as the Five Eyes, the 14 Eyes nations are important affiliates in mass surveillance and intelligence sharing.
The Dangers of Global Intelligence Alliances
Below are some of the dangers of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances:
Proxy Surveillance and Legal Loopholes
The potential for countries to surveil their citizens through proxy means is one of the most concerning aspects of intelligence alliances. Although it might be legally restricted for a country like the United Kingdom to spy on its people, collaboration within these alliances allows for overcoming such constraints.
For instance, the United Kingdom might seek assistance from the United States, a fellow member of the Five Eyes alliance, to carry out surveillance activities.
Global Internet Coverage
The expansive reach of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes covers many of the world’s internet users. As online literacy increases across countries, there is a growing inclination to join the 14 Eyes alliance.
This inclination raises essential questions about our trajectory—are we moving toward a world dominated by pervasive surveillance?
Expansion of the 14 Eyes Alliance
The 14 Eyes alliance, initially comprising 9 Eyes countries with an additional five, includes European countries and other global regions. Notable countries like Israel, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and British Overseas Territories are closely associated.
This expansion fuels concerns about the potential surveillance network spanning continents, bringing the prospect of a world monitored by a collective intelligence apparatus.
Implications for Individuals in Affected Nations
If you reside in any of the nations mentioned, achieving online anonymity is near impossible. Your online activities are traced, including the websites you visit, your online activity duration, search engine inputs, personal details, and IP address.
Since we now understand the involvement of the Five Eyes Alliance and its counterparts in various surveillance initiatives, the scope of intelligence gathering is still being determined, and the potential for intrusive surveillance remains a pressing issue.
Information gathered by the Five Eyes intelligence may be stored indefinitely, exposing you to the risk of government scrutiny based on your search history.
The Impact of 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances on Personal Privacy
Contrary to popular perception, the 5/9/14 Eyes alliances extend their influence far beyond the surveillance of prominent figures. The implications of these alliances resonate with daily residents of member states, particularly those who navigate the vast internet landscape.
The 5/9/14 Eyes states are global technology leaders, hosting many cybersecurity businesses. This includes providers of VPN services and developers of secure messaging applications; unfortunately, the governments of these nations often exert pressure on such businesses to divulge user data or disclose customer information.
An alarming trend is the governmental insistence on access to user data, with the United States exemplifying this in 2020 by leading in requests for user data from companies. This practice raises significant privacy concerns as businesses within these alliances may find themselves compelled to compromise user privacy under the weight of governmental demands.
Implications for VPN Users
As you may know, online privacy is a coveted but elusive asset; thus, VPNs are a refuge for many, with 44% seeking anonymous browsing and 37% prioritizing secure communication. However, the involvement of the 5/9/14 Eyes alliances adds complexity to the need for online anonymity. Let’s decode some VPN-related terms first to explore the intricate dynamics at play.
- VPN Jurisdiction: This refers to the legal base of a VPN provider. Many providers strategically choose a Jurisdiction outside their country of residence to navigate the oversight of relevant authorities.
- VPN Provider Location: The physical location of the VPN business may differ from where the company maintains its VPN servers.
- VPN Server Location: Where a VPN provider decides to deploy its servers, often spanning multiple global locations to offer users diverse choices.
Let’s get practical. Consider a VPN provider, X, operating under the US jurisdiction. If US authorities request user data for specific reasons, X must comply. Likewise, countries like Denmark, despite being part of the EU with GDPR standards, are bound to share electronic data with other 9 Eyes member nations when required.
A notable VPN like ExtremeVPN is well-known for providing user logs to authorities during crime investigations. Still, while being under the 5/9/14 Eyes jurisdiction raises concerns, it does not brand a VPN service as unsafe.
Top-tier VPN services like ExtremeVPN, in adherence to strict No Logs policies, abstain from collecting user data. These services have nothing to offer, even if a third party demands information.
The Role of VPNs in Safeguarding Against the 5 Eyes Alliance
Protecting your online privacy is paramount, and one effective tool at your disposal is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It is worth mentioning that VPNs are entirely legal in all Five Eyes nations.
A VPN hides your online activities by rerouting your data through encrypted servers, unlike the commercial ones operated by your ISP. This strategic move ensures that anyone attempting to intercept your traffic meets unintelligible gibberish.
Using a top-tier VPN service like ExtremeVPN offers you bonuses like:
Untraceable Online Presence
ExtremeVPN goes the extra mile by hiding your IP address and ensuring all your online activities remain untraceable. With a strict no-logs policy, ExtremeVPN does not store connection data, protecting your digital tracks from any link to your identity.
The ExtremeVPN app is versatile, supporting up to 10 devices, including smartphones, laptops, PCs, and smart TVs. Just activate it and instantly encrypt all your internet interactions.
Additional Security Features
ExtremeVPN is a comprehensive security solution. The top-tier threat protection feature actively blocks trackers that attempt to track your internet journey. Also, with ExtremeVPN, you can create your private network, channeling traffic to another device through encrypted tunnels.
This innovative addition enhances your online security posture, offering peace of mind in an interconnected digital landscape.
By choosing ExtremeVPN, your privacy becomes paramount, and your security is non-negotiable. As our cherished family member, you enjoy various exclusive benefits carefully created to enhance every facet of your online expedition.