Five Eyes Countries (or Nine Eyes/Fourteen Eyes)- Crucial for VPN Users to Understand
(Technical writer, ex-robot manual creator gone privacy enthusiast/VPN expert)
In the discussion surrounding VPNs – specifically, which offer the best privacy – you may have come across the term Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, or Fourteen Eyes. Aside from possibly prompting you to imaging spiders, it probably left you pondering just what this is, and how it relates to which VPN you should choose.
Let’s start with the basics: The Five Eyes (often shortened to FVEY) is the foundation of this network. It is synonymous with the UKUSA agreement, which was made in 1946 between the US and UK in order to enable the sharing of signals intelligence. Soon thereafter, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which are all Anglophone countries ruled by a common law legal system, were brought into the fold, thus the “five.”
Signals intelligence is intelligence gathering by the interception of signals, whether communications between people or from electronic signals not directly used in communication. Since sensitive information is often encrypted, signals intelligence also involves cryptanalysis, used to decipher messages.
ECHELON is the system (software) that is used by the five nations in order to eavesdrop on individuals. It was, at the time of its inception during WWII, originally used to monitor military communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. The guardian newspaper summarized ECHELON as “A global network of electronic spy stations that can eavesdrop on telephones, faxes and computers. It can even track bank accounts. This information is stored in Echelon computers, which can keep millions of records on individuals.” It has, since WWII, evolved beyond its original target to include the interception of private and commercial communications. This is why it is so pertinent to VPN users who wish to evade such communications interception.
There are laws in place that only allow the NSA to conduct certain types of spying on US citizens. Allied countries (those in the Five Eyes agreement) have different laws and surveillance laws. Accordingly, there are times when it is easier for foreign spy agencies to spy on American citizens, and for American spies to spy on foreign citizens. You can see where the incentives lead, and why this has implications if you have a VPN – or possibly even use a server – in a participating country.
Since its humble beginnings, the Five Eyes program has evolved to include nations, called “3rd party partners.” These nations participate in varying ways. For example, Denmark allowed the NSA to install surveillance equipment on fiber-optic cables leaving and entering the country. In return, Danish intelligence has access to NSA hardware and technology. The countries that were later added to the agreement are known as Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes. The Nine Eyes agreement added Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway to the fold, while the Fourteen Eyes brought in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden. These countries, as well as the original five, are all countries that you want to avoid when choosing a VPN. We would also go so far as to say that you should avoid servers in these countries, but this depends on how far you want to take it.
We have put together a list of the top VPN providers that are located in non-14 Eyes countries. Your internet traffic is likely to traverse through one of the Thirteen Eyes countries at some point on its way to its destination, but if you avoid make sure your traffic doesn’t originate from one of these countries, you’re better off.
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