Five eyes, nine eyes, fourteen eyes, we have heard these terms a lot but why should you care about them? How are they relevant to a VPN and your privacy? Why are they important when it comes to selecting a VPN?
In this guide, we will be answering all these questions. We will take a closer look at what are Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes nations, their surveillance alliances, and cases where user’s privacy was compromised.
Likewise, we will be examining VPN providers, the location where they are headquartered, and which factors you should look for when selecting a VPN.
So without further ado, let’s get straight to it.
What are Five Eyes Nations?
Five Eyes or FVEY is an alliance between the intelligence agencies of five nations. The core objective of this alliance is to share intelligence information.
FVEY alliance includes Nation Security Agency (NSA) from the United States, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) from the United Kingdom, Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), and Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) from New Zealand.
First signs of Five Eyes was seen post World War II and dates back to UKUSA Agreement. The pact between USA and UK formalized an alliance for intelligence sharing. The agreement has strengthened over the years and soon other nations (Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) were made part of the surveillance coalition.
Surveillance Programs Operated by Five Eyes
There are several surveillance programs carried out by the Five Eye nations. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know details about most of these surveillance programs.
One of the most prominent programs involved the development of ECHELON surveillance systems during WWII. Built to monitor Soviet Union’s communication, ECHELON computers were capable of storing millions of records. It was then later used to eavesdrop on private conversations and commercial communications.
PRISM is one of the most talked about surveillance program conducted by the Five Eyes. It was a code name project run by NSA and its main objective was to monitor and record internet communications. Several tech companies were part of the program, including the likes of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, YouTube, Microsoft, Apple, and Skype.
According to the revelations unveiled by Edward Snowden about PRISM, NSA could conduct mass surveillance on live communications and record information such as emails, conversations over VoIP services (Skype), social media activities, file transfers, videos, pictures, voice and video chats, and internet browsing history. Likewise, NSA and other intelligence agencies could summon special requests to ISPs and tech companies and demand for data regarding specific users.
The extent of surveillance was not only restricted to NSA. Other intelligence agencies such as GCHQ of UK could also use the program to intercept communications of civilians. In short, any operative from NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA or other agency could know anything about anyone using PRISM.
XKeyscore is another program run by NSA in collaboration with intelligence agencies from Australia and the UK. The primary aim of this program was to search and analyze internet traffic of around the world. Edward Snowden revealed top-secret documents pertaining to XKeyscore, unveiling how NSA was able to monitor, record, and analyze communications and internet usage of just about anyone.
In an interview, with a German broadcaster asked Edward Snowden about the capabilities of XKeyscore and he replied:
“You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website: You can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at: You can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking: you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world…”
Investigatory Power Act
The GCHQ and other intelligence agencies in the UK are just as involved in cyber surveillance as NSA. With the passage of Investigatory Power Act, ISPs and telecom companies can record internet browsing history, conversations, text messages, and all other forms of communications. This data is stored for two years and gives full liberty to intelligence agencies to access it for their use.
Other Notable Surveillance Programs
In addition to the above-mentioned programs, other initiatives undertaken by the Five Eye nations included:
- Signals Intelligence
- Data Retention Bill in Australia
Surveillance Agencies Part of 5 Eyes
Each nation of the five-eye coalition has multiple intelligence agencies operating under different surveillance program. Here are some of these governmental bodies:
Source: UKUS Agreement
What are Nine Eyes Nations?
If you have seen the James Bond movie Spectre (2015), then you have an idea about Nine Eye Nations. The alliance is an extension of Five Eye agreement and includes more countries. In addition to the FVEY countries, this collaboration also includes France, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
The overall goal of this arrangement between the nine nations is same, share intelligence with each other. First signs of this were seen when the Danish intelligence agency collaborated with NSA. The Danish authorities gained access to NSA tech while allowing the American intelligence agency to install surveillance equipment on fiber optic cables throughout the country.
What are Fourteen Eyes Nations?
The intelligence alliance further expanded between nations and included more countries, resulting in Fourteen Eyes. This agreement included both Five Eyes nations, Nine Eyes nations, and other new members:
The objective of this arrangement was also the same: share intelligence information with each other, provide technical support, and allow respective agencies to conduct surveillance in the country.
Implications of Selecting a VPN from 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes & 14 Eyes Countries
When it comes to selecting a VPN, many experts would advise you to avoid VPN services based in 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, or 14 Eyes countries. Why is that? The basic notion is to throw caution to the wind and avoid providers that can hand over your data to governmental agencies or grant backdoor access.
This is where using a VPN based in an internet friendly location and preferably outside the fourteen eyes is preferred. However, there are several other factors to consider when choosing a VPN. Among them is whether the provider keeps usage logs or not.
Even if a provider is located in any of these nations but it doesn’t keep any logs then users have nothing to worry about. Since the service does not record or store your browsing and downloading history, they would have nothing to handover if someone comes looking for any information.
Likewise, with the introduction of GDPR, companies now offer greater transparency than before. You can check out our guide to find which VPNs comply with GRPR for more info.
This is because selecting a VPN based solely on its location is difficult. Their jurisdiction of preserving user’s privacy and security cannot be determined based on the country of its operations.
Therefore, we would advise our readers to consider other characteristics when choosing a VPN. These include:
- Logging Policy: whether the provider keeps usage or connection logs
- Pricing: does the provider fall within your budget
- Performance: how much speed does the VPN compromises and does it create lag during streaming
- Compatibility: on which devices can I use the VPN and are there exclusive apps for each operating system
- Servers: locations where the provider offers servers
- Protocol and Encryption: how capable is the provider in securing your personal information
- Customer Support: how quick is the VPN in resolving your queries and problems
VPN Jurisdiction: China
Official authorities in China only allow a handful of VPN services. Although, the country does not have any affiliation with five eyes, nine eyes, and 14 eyes alliances. China follows its own set of rules famously known as Great Firewall (GFW).
Unfortunately, you may find yourself in the hot waters of legal troubles if official authorities catch you red handed. You will have to pay a fine up to few thousand dollars too.
Multinational organizations those are collecting personal information in China have to store that information within China too. They have to abide by Chinese Data Protection Regulation (CDPR). The country is also planning to devise rules regarding for personal information cross border transmission.
Check out an exclusive best VPN for China guide to know about VPNs that work in China.
VPN Jurisdiction: Australia
Australia being a member of five eyes allows its netizens to use VPNs of their choice as per their own needs. This is because using a VPN in the country is considered legal. Still, the VPN providers have to comply with data retention laws. These rules force them to keep the record of their subscribers’ online activities.
On the other hand, VPN subscriptions have stretched another level during the last two years. According to Australian Prime Minister’s official site, you can use a VPN to access geo-restricted content. Nevertheless, this notion only applies on content streaming.
As soon as users download or upload copyright content with the help of a VPN, they violate copyright law through VPN. They receive legal penalties in return.
Famous tech giants like Facebook and Google have shown their disappointments over draft Australian data bill. According to this, these tech firms need to assist Australian police to decode specific forms of communications on their platforms. This act could hamper the online privacy of users a great deal.
Explore a detailed guide on best VPN for Australia to know about VPN services that work in Australia.
VPN Jurisdiction: Canada
Canada is a member of five eyes alliance and included among the top ten happiest countries in the world. Nevertheless, the country has implemented tougher online privacy rules. In terms of surveillance, data retention, and net neutrality, you will find various laws cumbersome and harsh too.
You can use a VPN within the legal parameters. However, the intelligence agencies can use and share users’ information with other nations accordingly. Here is the list of most popular Canadian VPN services that includes:
Around 87% Canadians use internet for different reasons. Sadly, 94% Canadian business store and use personal data of Canadian internet users. In addition, California has approved a new privacy law that may affect Canadian online businesses to another level.
Consumers can ask about data collection procedure. They can also ask organizations how they are using their information online.
Read our exclusive guide on best Canada VPN to secure your privacy in the country.
VPN Jurisdiction: United Kingdom
VPNs are legal within the territory of the UK but the country belongs to five, nine, and fourteen eyes alliances. You are allowed to use a VPN however, UK based VPN services have to follow British data retention laws.
Users can express their views on different political and social issues as they can exercise freedom of expression right instantly. British netizens will have to bear the cost of their privacy as the establishment has an inevitable right to monitor their online activities.
why its important to use a vpn, not from one of the 14 eyes countries, and one that has zero logging
— Talbarez (@Talbarez) August 5, 2018
As per The Freedom House, Internet freedom does exist while Reporters Without Borders suggests UK falls in the category of “Internet Enemy”. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has already started affecting UK tech organizations.
The users can identify GDPR’s UK version in the form of Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018. Organizations have to focus on their data processing guidelines. Otherwise, they can face consequences if they do not take their users’ privacy seriously.
Discover our best UK VPN guide to circumvent online restrictions in the UK.
VPN Jurisdiction: USA
VPN usage is lawful within the US. However, the country is a part of five, nine, and 14 eyes groups. Therefore, surveillance agencies can track users’ online activities through the support of ISPs. Recently, net neutrality rule was expired as FCC voted against the famous notion.
The official authorities do not censor online content but the VPN providers have to store their subscribers’ data. According to Freedom House, country’s internet policies come in ‘Free’ category. Here is the list of US based VPN providers:
- Private Internet Access
Recently, US has abolished net neutrality rule. As a result, ISPs can charge extra fee for providing specific content streaming. The initiative could hurt small and medium sized business firms quite badly in future.
Check out best VPN for USA guide to bypass net neutrality repeal hassle-free.
VPN Jurisdiction: Japan
The country does not have any affiliation with five, nine and fourteen eyes. The internet users are allowed to avail VPN services of their likings. ISPs follow self-censorship rule that enable them to restrict access towards immoral content.
Users have luxury when it comes to sharing their opinions with other users online. VPN Gate is one of the most popular Japanese VPN services.
Find out VPN for Japan guide to access region blocked overseas content in the country anonymously.
Do Additional Eyes Exist?
Edward Snowden has revealed more or less 30 countries those are working as third-party partners. They support eyes countries by different surveillance acts like cyberspace monitoring, information, wire-tapping and so on.
Here is the list of countries that are acting as allies of eyes territories.
- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
Are Governments forcing VPN services to store users’ information?
Countries from 5 eyes, 9 eyes and 14 eyes have initiated stern actions that allow them to influence businesses to store their users’ data. They can compel VPN services to abide by the rules described by higher authorities.
This way, the information collected can be shared with other stakeholders. Intelligence agencies from other countries may also access the information if they wish to use it for their own purposes.
Location of VPN Providers
Every VPN provider headquarters its operations in a particular country. Here is a detailed list of VPN providers with their location (listed extracted from the VPN Comparison chart created by ThatOnePrivacyGuy):
|VPN SERVICE||Country||VPN SERVICE||Country|
|Astrill||Seychelles||Autistici / Inventati||Italy|
|Avast Secureline||Czech Republic||Avira Phantom VPN||USA|
|ExpressVPN||British Virgin Islands||Faceless.ME||Cyprus|
|Hide My IP||USA||Hola!VPN||Israel|
|My Expat Network||UK||MyIP.io||USA|
|My Private Network||Hong Kong||MyVPN.Pro||USA|
|Norton WiFi Privacy||USA||NVPN||Bosnia|
|OctaneVPN||USA||Opera (Browser) VPN||Norway|
|oVPN.to||Depends on server location||Perfect Privacy||Switzerland|
|PirateParty.ca||Canada||Private Internet Access||USA|
|PrivatePackets.io||British Indian Ocean||PrivateTunnel||USA|
|PureVPN||Hong Kong||RA4W VPN||USA|
|Smart DNS Proxy||Seychelles||SmartVPN||Morocco|
|Unblock-Us||Barbados||Unblock VPN||Czech Republic|
|VPN Land||Canada||VPN Master||USA|
|VPN Shield||Poland||VPN Unlimited||USA|
If you have seen the movie, Enemy of The State, then you know how powerful NSA’s surveillance is. With surveillance programs stretching to international borders, several alliances have formed over the years.
The most famous of all is Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes. However, does selecting a VPN from any of these locations puts your security in jeopardy? We seek to answer this with our guide. There are several factors that go into selecting a VPN and its basis of operations is one of them.
We hope that the list of VPN locations will help you narrow down your search and provide clarity. If you have any queries, do let us know in the comments below.