In the realm of international surveillance, the terms “Five Eyes”, “Nine Eyes”, and “Fourteen Eyes” are often thrown around. These alliances, formed between various countries, share intelligence and data in a bid to bolster global security. But what exactly are these alliances, and what do they mean for individual privacy?
In this article, we will explore the origins of the Eye Alliances, and their implications for your online privacy; and share tips on how to protect yourself against mass government surveillance.
The Five Eyes Alliance (FVEY)
The Five Eyes Alliance, often abbreviated as FVEY, traces its roots back to the dark days of World War II. Born out of a secret agreement between the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), the alliance has since expanded to include Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These English-speaking countries have formed a tight-knit group, sharing top-secret intelligence and working closely to keep their citizens safe from harm.
At the core of the FVEY alliance lies the UKUSA Agreement, a treaty signed in 1946 that laid the groundwork for this unprecedented partnership. Originally designed to monitor and decipher Soviet communications, the Five Eyes have since evolved to tackle a range of global security challenges, from terrorism to cyber warfare. Their cooperation extends to Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), which encompasses the interception and analysis of electronic communications and data.
Over the years, the Five Eyes have been instrumental in preventing numerous terrorist attacks and uncovering espionage activities. One notable example is the thwarting of the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot – in which terrorists planned to detonate liquid explosives onboard multiple flights from the UK to North America. The timely sharing of intelligence between the US, UK, and Canada played a critical role in averting a potential tragedy.
Expansion into the Nine- and Fourteen Eyes Alliance
Over time, the original 5 Eyes network expanded further, giving rise to the 9 Eyes alliance, which added Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway to the list of participating countries. The even broader 14 Eyes alliance includes five more European countries: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.
Each expansion increased the scope and reach of the surveillance network, enabling members to collect and share more information on global communications extensively. This collaboration proved vital in responding to the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 – which affected hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe. By pooling their resources, the Five Eyes were able to mitigate the impact and trace the attack back to its source.
- 5 Eyes: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand
- 9 Eyes: 5 Eyes + Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway
- 14 Eyes: 9 Eyes + Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden
How 5/9/14 Eyes Alliances Affect Your Everyday Life
These alliances have significant implications for online privacy. Intelligence agencies from these countries can potentially access a vast amount of data, including online user activity. This has led to concerns about the extent of these agencies' surveillance capabilities and the impact on individual privacy rights.
The Edward Snowden leaks highlighted one of the most concerning aspects of these alliances: their ability to enable countries to spy on their own citizens. For instance, the UK's GCHQ is legally prohibited from spying on its citizens; however, it can request data from the US's NSA since both countries are members of the Five Eyes alliance. This effectively allows countries to bypass domestic privacy laws and enforce mass surveillance.
Moreover, recent changes in domestic espionage legislation, such as the UK's Investigatory Powers Act introduced in 2016, have further legalized invasive surveillance tactics. These developments emphasize the growing importance of understanding and protecting our online privacy in an increasingly interconnected world.
Protecting Yourself Against Mass Government Surveillance
There are a few things ordinary people like you and me can do to protect our privacy and fight against 5/9/14 Eyes Alliance surveillance.
1. Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt internet traffic and route it through a secure server, making it more difficult for government agencies or hackers to monitor your online activities. Choose a reputable VPN service, preferably one based outside the Five, Nine, or Fourteen Eyes jurisdictions, to reduce the risk of your data being shared with these alliances.
ExpressVPN (based in the British Virgin Islands) and NordVPN (based in Panama) are VPN providers located out of the 14 Eyes jurisdictions and offer strong privacy protections with strict no-logs policies. Consider signing up with them if you have not used a VPN in the past.
2. Encrypt your communications
Use end-to-end encryption for messaging and calls, such as the encryption provided by apps like Telegram or Signal. This ensures that only the intended recipients can read your messages or listen to your calls, making it harder for government surveillance programs to intercept and access your private conversations.
3. Secure all your devices and web accounts
Keep your devices updated with the latest security patches, and use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible to add an extra layer of security. These steps can help protect your devices and accounts from unauthorized access, reducing the risk of your data being exposed to government surveillance.
4. Be cautious with your online presence
Limit the amount of personal information you share and restrict who can view your posts on social media networks. Be cautious when sharing sensitive information online, and avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading unverified files, which may expose your data to surveillance or cyberattacks.
5. Use an anonymous email address
When signing up for online services or participating in forum discussions, consider using a pseudonym instead of your real name to protect your identity. Additionally, create an anonymous email address (ie. ProtonMail, Tutanota) for these activities. This can help minimize the digital footprint tied to your real identity, making it more difficult for government agencies to track your online activities.
6. Switch to a privacy-oriented browser
Most popular browsers, like Google Chrome, are known for collecting user data. To protect your browsing habits from surveillance, switch to a privacy-oriented browser such as Brave or even Tor Browser. These browsers offer better privacy settings and more control over your data.
Final Thoughts: Balancing Security and Personal Privacy
Privacy concerns and the Eyes alliances are real. But, the intelligence-sharing networks protect us too – They stop terrorists, break up crime, and fight cyber threats, keeping many people safe. It's important to strike a balance between safety and privacy rights. By pushing for transparency and limits on spying, we can create a fair system. Open talks help find a middle ground, respecting privacy and ensuring security. The challenge is to protect privacy without risking our safety.