The world's most powerful state surveillance agencies have formed intelligence-sharing alliances known as the 5 eyes, 9 eyes, and 14 eyes alliances, and their purpose is to monitor and share the online activity of internet users to protect national security.
But what you might not know is that if the VPN service you use, its jurisdiction could be subject to the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes Alliance intrusive surveillance, data retention, or data-sharing laws. Learn more about what all this means for your online privacy in this guide.
What is the Five Eyes Alliance
Beginning with what it is, the Five Eyes Alliance (FVEY) was born out of a Cold War era intelligence pact called the UKUSA Agreement.
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
Opposed to what people tend to think about it now, the Five Eyes Alliance was actually an intelligence-sharing agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom during the Cold War.
Why did they need to have an intelligence-sharing agreement with each other, you ask?
They were trying to decrypt the Soviet Union Russian intelligence, and this (along with the other Eyes Alliances) was eventually BORN.
In the name of spying on foreign governments, the agreement eventually grew to be a basis of electronic spy stations worldwide.
(Not so fun fact: It became the foundation of partnerships between intelligence agencies! Such an example would be the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) agreements in the West!)
Yes, that includes agreements on ALL the data via telephone calls, faxes, and computers.
Including the data of yours and mine? Maybe it's time we find out for ourselves…
In the late 1950s, a few more countries eventually joined. The following of these Five Eyes (FVEY) countries are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Partnered with the original United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK), we have the entire list of the Five Eyes Countries!
As time went on, the bonds and agreements between these five countries only got STRONGER with each other.
This arrangement between the Five Eyes countries remained top secret for an indefinite period!
However, it was only a matter of time (2003 to be exact) before the National Security Agency (NSA) finally discovered the Five Eyes intelligence agency.
Fun fact: 10 years later, Edward Snowden leaked some DOCUMENTS as an NSA contractor.
What type of information did the NSA have on them?
Edward Snowden of NSA revealed government surveillance data of citizens' and internet users' online activity.
And don't forget about the information of NSA on how the intelligence-sharing network was SO MUCH BIGGER than what everyone thought.
What is the Nine Eyes Alliance
Then, we have the Nine Eyes Alliance.
It is a group of nations that share intelligence with each other. Nine Eyes is similar to the former alliances because it can now pass for a surveillance system.
- 5-Eyes states +
Again composed of the original Five Eyes member countries, the Nine Eyes also includes Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway as third parties.
Since that makes up all of the Eyes Alliances and agreements, does this mean that all of them have access to the data? Sure it does.
While its current purpose doesn't seem to have gone through media leaks yet, it does seem that this mass surveillance alliance looks more of an EXCLUSIVE club of SSEUR.
It's not backed down by any treaties and is currently just known as an arrangement between the SIGINT intelligence agencies.
What is the Fourteen Eyes Alliance
Existing in different forms of information alliances since 1982, the Fourteen Eyes alliance is the intelligence group consisting of the 5 Eyes countries and some new members.
For your information, the Fourteen Eyes alliance isn't really its name. Its official title is the SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Seniors of Europe (SSEUR)!
- 9-Eyes states +
The Fourteen Eyes member Countries are the following: the Five Eyes (5 eyes) countries, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
Together, the rest of the countries participate in SIGINT sharing as third parties.
Like the Five Eyes, its initial mission was to retrieve data about the USSR on the Soviet Union. But one thing to note about the Fourteen Eyes alliance is it's not actually a formal treaty.
Think of it as an AGREEMENT made between the SIGINT agencies.
As you can expect, this is where they share intelligence and surveillance data.
Does that make it sound better in terms of their information surveillance on internet activity?
Again, you tell me.
The Third-Party Contributors
Besides the above-listed countries, there are also third-party contributors which are countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Countries including Greece, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Iceland the Baltic States, and many other European countries), as well as other “strategic” intelligence-sharing allies which include Israel, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.
I think it might be worth noting that other parties are suspected of exchanging information with the huge data surveillance system.
As you can see, they're also well-known by the world as owners of MULTITUDES of data!
How Do These Alliances Affect VPN Users
I'm sure you're aware of these data mass surveillance systems. So what do I propose to do with the said countries?
The aim of this article is to teach you about the implications of these intelligence agencies, of course!
Online Laws and Regulations
Whoever holds jurisdiction over the user data of citizens, especially when internet users are on a VPN service, depends on a lot of factors.
It could be the citizens' physical location, server location, or location of the VPN providers.
All of it.
If citizens want to be safe, it'd be in their best interest to know about the laws of ALL THREE FACTORS of user data mass surveillance.
Privacy Laws of the Country You Live In
One of the first things you should know about the regulations in your country IS whether VPN is even ALLOWED.
Most of the time, countries do allow the use of such private internet access services. However, this isn't always the case!
You should also know about the data protection privacy laws present in your country. How protected is your data under your country's law enforcement?
While I believe the alliances won't simply state that they're taking away their data, it's still good to know!!
Privacy Laws of the VPN Provider Countries
Another important consideration you should know about is the law enforcement of the surveillance laws in the business' country.
Depending on the country, the provider could actually be asked to SEND information and user data of the citizens it manages.
Most especially because agreements between the intelligence agencies and Eyes alliances allow easy breaching of information about the citizens' privacy.
If anything, I advise you NOT to choose a VPN provider based in a country associated with the Fourteen Eyes Alliance!
Privacy Laws of VPN Country Server
Apart from the VPN providers' location, I advise that it's also worth being knowledgeable about the countries' privacy laws where your server is located!
You might need these because different places in the world have different ways of keeping their data safe. Or not.
No Logs Policies
I know that VPNs are easily under the jurisdictions of the Eyes countries, and that's exactly why I'm telling you that the best VPNs are those with no-logs policies!
This means that the VPN WON'T BE RETAINING any information which could be used for mass surveillance of any sort.
Therefore, you as the user and your online activity won't reach the intelligence-sharing agreements of the Eyes countries.
That's right! Choosing the right VPN protects your privacy and your fellow citizens!
No Logs Policies: The Emblem of Privacy
Now I have a story for you!
A while back, a Turkish police investigation party got into a very specific mass surveillance case.
An Express VPN user among the authorities tried to ask the VPN provider to hand them the USER DATA and citizens' information using the said service.
But because of the no logs policy of Express VPN, authorities were unable to find any relevant data and information!
I believe this is comforting, indeed. But citizens must also note that it's not enough for a VPN provider to claim they have no logs policies.
The 5 Eyes Alliance, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes are so much smarter than that, so make sure to keep your eyes open because of that privacy agreement!
The Best VPNs for Countries Outside of the Five Eyes Alliance
I know I've tackled trying to be aware of your surroundings as a VPN user, but it's not enough to tell you what you SHOULD and SHOULD NOT do.
So here is my list of the best VPN for countries outside the 5 eyes alliance!
First up, Express VPN! Without a doubt, it's known for its highly regarded speed and its ability to get through extreme blockages during access to popular content.
But more than that, its privacy is also one of a kind! It holds a competitive level of keeping a privacy and security agreement between its users and provider, even under pressure.
It's based in the all privacy-friendly British Virgin Islands and has proven itself to NOT HOLD ANY INFORMATION on its users.
Its privacy is kept safe by military-grade encryption and a multitude of leak-protection protocols!
These benefits should help you exhale.
- NO data log
- NO information will be used for the surveillance of the 5 eyes,
- Content WON'T be sent to the governments.
Nor can it be of use to such a harmful data agreement like the 5 Eyes.
Simply because there isn't any surveillance to share!
… read my detailed ExpressVPN review
Operating outside the jurisdiction of the 14 eyes alliance, CyberGhost operates in another privacy-friendly country, Romania!
Without fail, I believe that CyberGhost has also proven its dedication to user surveillance privacy and its serious stance towards the no-logs policy.
Standing with impressive AES-256 encryption and top-notch security protocols, this one is a VPN choice for anyone who prefers a user-friendly interface!
… read my detailed CyberGhost review
Based in Switzerland (which, by the way, is one of the countries which treats internet privacy very seriously) and outside of the 14 eyes alliance, VyprVPN is also a great choice for anyone looking for a safe VPN!
In fact, they've also stated their commitment to transparency when it comes to the privacy concerns of their users.
They stand with 256-bit encryption, a NAT Firewall as protection from malware, and proprietary Chameleon technology to bypass censorship. Basically, I don't think there's anything to worry about here!
The VPN brand claims that it's transparent and honest with citizens you use their services. However, such transparency is kept locked out of the 5 eyes.
The thing is, I also believe in transparency. And you should know that VyprVPN has admitted to keeping SOME user data for up to 30 days, but only for billing and troubleshooting purposes!
After that, it's OUT of the eyes of the system.
A Country-by-Country Guide
I've gone through the specifics of the actual VPN and the 5 eyes business now, and I believe you're ready to learn more about the specifications of every country possible!
The more knowledge you have, the safer your privacy will be.
Beginning with the star of the article, it's true that Australia doesn't have any restrictions on internet use and access. And VPNs are legal here, too!
But the things I want you to take out of this section is that Australia is a member of the five eyes, the nine eyes, and the fourteen eyes countries. Yes, it's one of the core countries of the 5 Eyes Alliance.
Australia also REQUIRES their telecommunication companies to store user data for 2 years. In fact, there have been cases about Australian law enforcement accessing such information!
I can't say that your privacy will be ensured the moment it gets to the eyes of Australia because it participates in the intelligence-sharing agreements.
The British Virgin Islands
Even if the British Virgin Islands fall on the territory of the United Kingdom (UK), it is self-governed and has its own laws and legislature.
Such laws include its non-involvement in the intelligence-sharing agreement, despite the UK being a core member of the 5 Eyes.
In fact, the British Virgin Islands is the home of Express VPN, which is one of the most private VPNs you could get for yourself!
Telecommunication providers in the British Virgin Islands also aren't subjected to data retention laws and government surveillance of the UK.
5 Eyes? Don't count the British Virgin Islands!
While I wish we could, we can't avoid the core members of the 5 eyes in this list!
VPNs are legal in Canada, but this country also happens to be one of the core countries of the 5 Eyes Alliance, the 9 Eyes, and the 14 Eyes.
They have strong protection laws for freedom of speech and press, and their government also strongly supports network neutrality. Among all these, Canada also provides an initiative for universal internet access to all of its citizens, and they keep it ALL unrestricted.
While I have to admit these are all great, one can't just ignore their participation in the 5 Eyes. Any data that goes through or is stored in Canada? Safe to say, it's at risk of being part of the intelligence-sharing agreement.
Popular VPNs based in Canada include Betternet, BTGuard VPN, SurfEasy, WindScribe, and TunnelBear!
Known as the world's worst abuser of internet freedom, China's restrictions on internet activity continue to tighten thanks to its strict cybersecurity laws.
But more than its heavy censorship, China also requires its citizens to use data localization and real-name registration for internet providers.
Any time the government requests documents, the telecommunication companies have to HAND THEM OVER.
Regardless of the principles of privacy.
VPNs? The only ones allowed are those which are government-approved.
Did I mention that internet users who try to access the international internet networks without the government's approval are subject to fines?
Following the discussion on China, Hong Kong actually doesn't follow these restrictive guidelines. After all, they can govern on their own.
This leaves Hong Kong with almost unlimited internet access, with just a few restrictions on illegal content (piracy and pornography, for example)!
But VPNs ARE legal again!.
A few of the most popular VPNs in Hong Kong are DotVPN, BlackVPN, and PureVPN!
Moving back to a country involved with the Eyes Alliances, there's Israel!
To start, Israel covers strong legal protection policies on freedom of speech, including such a right on the internet. Censoring online content? Israel hasn't been known for such a thing.
But Israel IS known to be one of the third-party contributors of the Eyes Alliances (although it's not officially a member).
There have been a few cases of Israel working closely with the United States (US) on surveillance initiatives, for example. Which I believe you should still take note of.
Due to Israel having even greater powers than the NSA, this is a great benefit to the United States (one of the core countries of the 5 Eyes Alliance).
And before I forget, yes, VPNs are legal in Israel!
As a member of the 14 Eyes Alliance, there have been a few cases of Italy being involved in the stocking of data.
If anything, the telecommunication companies in Italy are actually REQUIRED to keep online data for up to 6 YEARS!
Italy does, however, protect the freedom of expression of the people, and citizens can enjoy the almost-completely unrestricted access (except for some filtering of illegal content).
I know them to be pretty slow when expanding their internet provisions, and some residents have had problems with consistent internet access.
But they do allow the use of VPNs, the most popular of them being the Air VPN!
Moving on, we also have one of the other core countries of the 5 Eyes Alliance, New Zealand!
They're a member of all 3 intelligence-sharing agreements and have no government-mandated censorships online. Partnered with their support for freedom of speech, their government also offers voluntary support for the internet providers who wish to censor some of the content online.
And for a small note, I believe New Zealand benefits greatly from being a part of the 5 Eyes Alliance (although some factors have not been revealed to the public yet).
Now, South Korea is known to have some limited access to web content. This is due to the restrictions on their freedom of speech for defamation and political cases.
Here's the thing: South Koreans have issues regarding real-name systems for users even if they have a constitutional law that protects their privacy. As we all know, this shouldn't really have to be encouraged.
This adds insult to injury because S.Korea is apparently a third-party contributor to the 5 Eyes Alliance,
It's no surprise that these systems have been the case of citizens raising some concerns!
Sweden‘s partnership with the 14 Eyes Alliance confuses a lot of people, sometimes including me.
This is because Sweden protects freedom of speech, prohibits most types of censorship, and even bans arbitrary interferences with privacy.
In fact, intelligence agencies are REQUIRED to get court permission to monitor online traffic and national security!
Typically, this would be the characteristics of a country that doesn't participate in the intelligence-sharing agreement, but here stands Sweden.
After all, there's still no saying where the data goes once a country is associated with these alliances.
United Kingdom (UK)
As one of the founding members of the 5 Eyes, the UK already has a WIDE ACCESS to international surveillance networks.
They guarantee the freedom of speech and press, and the protection of the residents' privacy is actually legally protected with the help of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Yet again, I shouldn't forget to mention that there have been increasing government and police surveillance trends.
According to the UK, though, such trends result from their efforts to protect the country from child abuse and fight terrorism.
Like most of the countries on this list, VPNs are legal in the UK!
United States of America (US)
Now how could anyone forget to mention the US?
Despite being the counterpart of the founding members of the 5 Eyes, the US has expressed its commitments to protecting the privacy of internet users, freedom of speech, and media!
One might say the US is quite questionable, though.
That is, the US has access to the most advanced surveillance technologies in the world, and they're
DEFINITELY more than capable of taking advantage of all the data they've stored as the founding member of the 5 Eyes!
Just like the UK, US citizens defend their increasing trends in surveillance for counterterrorism purposes.
What do you think?
No matter how many times one looks at it, this type of surveillance could get a little bit scary.
The threat of data invasion is the same. This rings true whether we're talking about Australia and New Zealand or the founders of the US and UK;
And it's been as real as ever for the past years.
I'm a firm believer that with enough knowledge, we should be able to equip ourselves with enough protection. On that note, see everything with CARE! And make sure you're in safe hands!