More people are searching for information about the Five Eyes (FVEY), Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes surveillance alliances as awareness of global surveillance grows. These terms are frequently used in the privacy community, especially when talking about privacy tools.
Guest author Sven Taylor is the editor behind Restore Privacy, a blog dedicated to inform about best internet privacy practices, safeguard your electronic devices, unblock restricted content, and combat censorship.
These are international surveillance groups representing many countries around the world that work together to gather and share extensive surveillance data with each other. Starting with the UKUSA agreement and the Five Eyes intelligence sharing, these organizations have been spying on people for decades, dating back to World War II.
The government agencies that are behind these programs often collaborate with internet service providers and other big IT businesses to access important infrastructure for the collection of private data (data surveillance). This turns your internet service provider, for example, into a local adversary that is spying on you for state agencies. No, this is not a theory.
Your internet service provider is monitoring everything!
In our article on internet service providers recording browsing activity, the US Federal Trade Commission published a 74-page report documenting how internet service providers are collecting huge amounts of private information from their customers and then selling it to third parties.
The PRISM surveillance agreements as well as the notorious Room 641a case with AT&T and the NSA cover these practices. Below, we'll describe all of the different "X" eyes surveillance alliances and why this is important when selecting privacy tools.
Five Eyes on the Moon
The Five Eyes (FVEY) surveillance network consists of the following countries:
The origins of this alliance go back to WWII and the UKUSA Agreement, which was officially signed after the war in 1946. This arrangement established a partnership between the United Kingdom and the United States for collecting and sharing intelligence data.
When Edward Snowden exposed the US government's surveillance activities in 2013, the partnership remained active throughout the Cold War and has only deteriorated since the "Global War on Terror" started in the early 2000s.
Below are a list of different "5 Eyes" surveillance agencies that are collaborating to collect and record information.
Agents working together to surveil enemies and their own citizens is referred to as the Table of the Five Eyes.
The Five Eyes Intelligence Oversight and Review Council (FIORC) is a branch of the US Director of National Intelligence. According to the FIORC web page on the US Director of National Intelligence website:
FIORC was created in the spirit of the existing Five Eyes partnership, which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Further, it states that...
Members of the Council discuss ideas on issues of mutual interest and concern; compare best practices in review and oversight procedures; look into areas where cooperation on reviews and the sharing of results is permitted where appropriate; encourage transparency to the greatest extent possible to enhance public trust; and maintain contact with political offices, oversight and review committees, and non-Five Eyes countries as appropriate.
The following non-political intelligence organizations, including the Five Eyes countries, are part of FIORC:
More information on FIORC, including a copy of the organization's charter, can be found here.
It is no surprise that some of the countries listed above on Five Eyes are also the worst violators of online privacy:
- United Kingdom Since the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act in 2016, internet service providers and telecoms have been recording browsing history, connection times, and text messages. The data is stored for two years and is available to UK government agencies and their partners without any warrant.
- United States The US government has been implementing Orwellian mass surveillance collection methods with the help of large telecoms and internet service providers (see the PRISM program). In March 2017, internet service providers were given the legal authority to record user activity and sell this to third parties. Of course, internet providers have been collecting data on their customers for many years, long before this law passed in 2017.
The Washington Post released one of the PRISM slides on June 6, 2013.
- Australia Australia has also implemented sweeping data retention laws similar to the United Kingdom.
The "5 Eyes" is home to the most powerful surveillance agencies in the world, whether it is the NSA in the United States or the GCHQ in the United Kingdom. A privacy company sharing a jurisdiction with entities like these is causing trouble.
The intelligence agencies in the Five Eyes countries have enormous authority to require businesses to record and handover data. In the United States, the Patriot Act established a new level of authority for federal data collection, particularly through the use of National Security Letters. Similar developments are occurring in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries.
Are there six eyes on this?
Taro Kono, Japan's defense minister, discussed strengthening cooperation with Five Eyes in an August 2020 Nikkei interview, declaring that "These countries share the same values. Japan can grow closer [to the alliance] even to the extent of it being dubbed the "Six Eyes."
Despite the possibility of an armed conflict with China, both the United States and the United Kingdom are said to be interested in this topic. We'll keep an eye on the situation and update our articles as necessary.
Countries included in the Nine Eyes are:
- 5 Eyes countries +
In a number of online sources, the existence of the Nine Eyes alliance is mentioned, and it became well-known following the Snowden revelations in 2013. It is just a continuation of the Five Eyes collaboration to collect and share massive surveillance data.
Countries that are under surveillance by Eyes are:
- 9 Eyes countries +
The original surveillance agreement was extended to these other countries as well. This group of countries' official name is SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR).
Within Five Eyes, the NSA and the GCHQ collaborated.
Various government documents, which have been released through official FOIA channels, reflect the close connection between the NSA and GCHQ. Being the two most powerful surveillance agencies in the world, with historical connections, it is no surprise that they work closely together.
A top-secret NSA document from 1985, which was obtained in 2018 via a FOIA request, reveals that this close collaboration continues today, based on the UKUSA Agreement, which is broadly written.
The UKUSA Agreement, which was signed on 5 March 1946, has twelve short paragraphs and is so general that, with the exception of a few proper nouns, no modifications have been made to it. A senior member of the State-Army-Navy Communications Intelligence Board (a predecessor organization that evolved into the present National foreign intelligence board) is still alive and well, allowing for a worldwide, complete and interdependent partnership.
Another top-secret NSA document from 1997 (officially released in 2018) further reveals the close collaboration between the NSA and the GCHQ:
Despite site closures, some GCHQ [redacted] exist solely to fulfill NSA tasking. NSA and GCHQ jointly discuss collection plans to minimize duplication and maximize coverage.
ECHELON is important because to the preceding reference to "joint sites."
ECHELON's surveillance system is a smart phone.
Menwith Hill, Yorkshire, with ECHELON Radomes. Photo taken November 2005. Matt Crypto via Wikimedia Commons
ECHELON is a network of five-eyes spy stations used by countries for large-scale espionage and data collection.
ECHELON is a global network of electronic spy stations that can intercept telephones, faxes, and computers, and that may even track bank accounts. This information is stored in Echelon computers, which can store millions of records on individuals.
Officially, however, Echelon does not exist. Although evidence of Echelon has increased since the mid-1990s, America flatly denies that it exists, while the UK government's responses to questions about the system remain evasive.
Despite these denials, whistleblowers have revealed what's going on behind the scenes. Both Perry Fellwock and Margaret Newsham have come forward to explain different aspects of ECHELON to the general public.
Avoid the 5 Eyes
The Five Eyes, while there are privacy concerns with the other countries in the larger 14 Eyes alliances, are the most important to avoid. Therefore, whenever data security is crucial, avoid the Five Eyes: US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Some people feel that worries about these surveillance jurisdictions are overblown or misguided, and that it really doesn't matter. This is often the case from VPN companies (and their marketers) who are located in the United States or Canada.
There are many examples that demonstrate the real-world dangers associated with privacy-focused businesses operating in Five Eyes jurisdictions. Here are a few of the things we've discussed before about RestorePrivacy:
VPNs that are in use in the United States, and by extension all of their users, can also be the target of copyright infringement lawsuits. TorGuard VPN was forced to block torrenting on all of its US servers as part of the settlement agreement, thus our recommendation when using a VPN for torrenting.
These are just a few examples that have recently been identified, but you can be assured there are others that we don't know about.
As we can see from these examples, when authorities compel businesses to collect and handover data, they usually serve them with a gag order as well. This is done by National Security Letters, and it prevents the business from divulging any information to their customers.
Without warning or notice, these laws basically give the government the authority to compel a legitimate privacy-focused business to become a data collection tool for state agencies. Even warrant canaries are useless in places like the United States.
Ignoring the authority of a privacy-focused business is a foolish move that ignores these well-documented dangers.
Privacy services to watch (in good jurisdictions) are recommended.
RestorePrivacy's primary purpose is to test, research, and recommend privacy and security measures that meet specific requirements. Given our emphasis on data security and trust, jurisdiction is a key consideration.
Our main concern about avoiding Five Eyes countries is its jurisdiction. After all, some of the 9 and 14 Eyes countries do indeed have strong privacy regulations, particularly in comparison to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Outside of Five Eyes, you'll receive secure email.
It's a no-brainer to use a secure and private email service in a safe jurisdiction. Consider this:
- Yahoo was found to be scanning emails in real-time for US surveillance agencies.
- Gmail was found to be giving third parties full access to user emails and also tracking all purchases via receipts in your inbox.
- Advertisers were allowed to scan Yahoo and AOL accounts to "identify and segment potential customers by picking up on contextual buying signals, and past purchases."
Alternatives - Here are a few of our favorite secure email services that we tested:
Outside the Five Eyes, the Best VPNs
Internet service providers are actively collecting information about government agencies around the world, either by actively monitoring connections or simply recording all of your DNS requests. Additionally, advertisers and other third-parties will track and record your online activity that is tied to your unique IP address.
A good VPN service is essential for basic online privacy, especially when ISPs are logging everything. A VPN protects all of your internet traffic and online activities from being discovered by your ISP and other third parties.
Here are some of the best VPN services located outside of the Five Eyes countries:
Some people are concerned about VPN logs and data storage. Fortunately, there are a few no logs VPNs that have undergone independent checks to verify their no-log policies:
Outside of Five Eyes, private search engines exist.
Most big search engines, such as Google, record all your search queries and then link this to your identity and data profile so you can get targeted advertisements. Consider using alternatives unless you want to give Google and its partners all your search activities.
Here are a few private search engines to consider:
There are a few search engines established in the Five Eyes countries that we still recommend. These include:
- DuckDuckGo (United States)
- Mojeek (United Kingdom)
- Brave Search (United States)
Trust and jurisdiction
Ensuring jurisdiction is just one of many considerations to keep an eye on when it comes to selecting the most beneficial privacy solutions for your particular situation. It all depends on your personal circumstances, particularly your threat model, and the types of adversaries you wish to protect yourself from.
jurisdiction is crucial for those seeking more privacy and security, especially when you consider that governments are increasingly required to require businesses to disclose information and log users. Trust is also a top consideration. Take for example PureVPN, a "no logs" service based in Hong Kong that provided connection logs for a criminal prosecution.
More privacy-focused businesses are going through independent audits and third-party verifications, especially in this area. We also see this trend with password managers and occasionally secure email services.
Are these the only international intelligence alliances?
Most certainly not. There are other organizations that we know of. Examples include the SIGINT Seniors Pacific, the Quadrilateral Security Dialog (the Quad), and the Club de Berne.
Will Japan become a "Sixth Eye"?
Japan has publicly stated that they wish to strengthen their connection to the Five Eyes and perhaps one day become a Sixth Eye. As of now, the conversation appears to be just talking, but growing tension between Japan and China seems to be urging Japan toward ever stronger connections with the Five Eyes countries. Only time will tell if we'll be talking about Six Eyes instead of Five Eyes soon.
Use safe harbor services when you travel.
The Five Eyes is the most powerful surveillance organization in the world. While it may be effective in preserving its member countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), it makes those countries less suitable as pro-privacy organizations and products.
Ultimately, we must recognize that everyone has different needs, use cases, and threat models. This means that selecting goods and services is a highly subjective process, and only you can choose the best fit for your needs.
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