The terms 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes refer to government surveillance alliances established across different countries. Member nations can monitor and log internet activity gleaned from online users and share it across borders, typically for security and law enforcement.
The 5, 9, and 14 refer to the number of countries in each alliance. Here’s a rundown:
5 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
9 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway.
14 Eyes: The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, and Spain.
The Eyes Alliances collect a range of data on the average individual, including communications data, location data, and, internet activity. Such extensive data collection harms user privacy and also prevents them from browsing the internet anonymously.
If you want to remain anonymous in spite of this global surveillance effort, a VPN is your best bet. As long as it’s not headquartered in one of the 14 eyes countries, it will keep you anonymous online. A good option to consider is the Panama-based NordVPN.
Getting a good VPN is just the start. Want to learn more about the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes and how to protect yourself against mass surveillance? Keep reading on!
The Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and Fourteen Eyes are global government surveillance and information-sharing alliances. These alliances center around monitoring and sharing data, often about their citizens, for national security and law enforcement.
The data monitoring and sharing practices of Eyes Alliances have significant ramifications for individual privacy and freedom online. To ensure our readers are aware of the surveillance they could be subject to, in this article, we’ve explained how the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes alliances work.
We’ve also covered the kinds of information they typically collect and the measures you can take to protect yourself from online surveillance. While there are several precautions you can and should take, using a VPN is the most effective and convenient option, as it encrypts your online traffic. A VPN based outside Eyes Alliance member nations, like NordVPN, is your best bet to avoid surveillance.
What Are the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances?
The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes are alliances that enable collaboration between state agencies to share data about private citizens for national security purposes.
Initially, only five countries worked together to coordinate intelligence efforts against the Soviet Union. These countries primarily focused on sharing signals intelligence (SIGINT). SIGINT involves the interception of signals, which can broadly be of two types:
Communication Intelligence (COMINT): Communications between individuals, such as messages, telegraphs, and emails
Electronic Intelligence (ELINT): Electronic signals that can indicate activity or location, such as radar signals
With time, the 5 Eyes Alliance expanded to include other countries. Now, there are three main alliances with differing levels of information sharing. The image below captures the members of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes Alliances.
The following sections provide a concise but detailed overview of each surveillance alliance.
What is the 5 Eyes Alliance?
The UK and USA were worried about the rise of Soviet Russia in the aftermath of World War II. To keep a check on Soviet activities, they entered into the UK-US Agreement (UKUSA), which enabled collaboration and information sharing in signals intelligence (SIGINT) about Russia and other adversaries.
Gradually, UKUSA expanded to include three other nations, namely, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. All three nations were strategically aligned with the UK and the US, and their inclusion led to the creation of the 5 Eyes.
Five Eyes intelligence agencies gather SIGINT about individuals in adversary nations and share it with each other. The key surveillance and intelligence agencies in the 5 Eyes member nations are listed in the table below.
National Security Agency (NSA)
The PATRIOT Act allows agencies to collect a vast amount of data, including call records and emails.
Government Communications Headquarters (GHQC)
The Investigatory Powers Act allows for the bulk collection of internet records and requires internet service providers (ISPs) to keep user logs of websites.
Communications Security Establishment (CSE)
The Anti-Terrorism Act establishes the CSE’s mandate, which includes acquiring and using information from the global information infrastructure for intelligence and surveillance activities.
Australia Signal Directorate (ASD)
The Telecommunications Interception and Access Act allows intelligence agencies to intercept and access stored communications with a proper warrant.
Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)
The Intelligence and Security Act 2017 empowers surveillance agencies to collect and analyze data in keeping with government priorities.
What is the 9 Eyes Alliance?
The Nine Eyes alliance comprises members of the Five Eyes along with Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. These countries were included to broaden the scope of intelligence sharing and bolster the collective surveillance capabilities.
We have limited detail about the nature of information sharing between the Nine Eyes countries. Despite Edward Snowden’s leaks, the alliance’s work remains shrouded in secrecy. However, we can reasonably conclude that the Nine Eyes alliance members are not as closely knit as the original Five Eyes countries.
The intelligence agencies of the four additional members of the Nine Eyes are listed below.
Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE/DDIS)
Denmark has ratified the European Union’s Directive on Data Retention. Resultantly, telephone providers and ISPs have to log user data, including their IP address.
Directorate General for Internal Security (DGSE)
The French Intelligence Act 2015 allows intelligence agencies to lay telephone or internet wiretaps, exploit computer networks, and access metadata.
General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD)
The Intelligence and Security Services Act 2017 allows agencies to intercept communications, hack third parties, and decrypt files.
Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS)
The Norwegian Intelligence Service Act 2020 empowers the NIS to collect information with third parties for the purpose of bilateral/multilateral collaboration.
What is the 14 Eyes Alliance?
The Fourteen Eyes Alliance is also known as the SIGINT Seniors Europe. It includes all the Nine Eyes countries plus Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. Resultantly, the Fourteen Eyes mark a significant expansion of the surveillance and information-sharing capabilities of the Alliances.
It is believed that information sharing between the 14 Eyes is not as intense as the 5 or 9 Eyes Alliances. Indeed, nations like Germany have sought to be included in the “inner circle” to gain more access to surveillance information. The following agencies are responsible for information sharing and surveillance in the 14 Eyes member nations.
Federal Intelligence Service (BND)
The German Federal Constitutional Protection Act allows intelligence agencies to infiltrate foreign service providers to access relevant information. It also allows the decryption of encrypted messages.
State Security Service (VSSE)
Belgium’s Data Retention Act required ISPs and TSPs to retain user activity logs. However, the Act was struck down by Parliament.
Italian Intelligence and Security Services (AISE)
Italy’s Anti-terrorism law includes provisions enabling intelligence agencies to lay wiretaps and share data for national security purposes.
National Intelligence Centre (CNI)
The Data Retention Law allows national intelligence agencies to access user logs retained by TSPs and ISPs.
Swedish Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST)
Sweden’s Data Collection Act grants the Swedish Security Service the power to obtain logs from TSPs and ISPs and decrypt electronic communication.
Who are third-party contributors?
Despite the expansion of the 5 Eyes alliance to include other nations, it is still largely comprised of Western nations. This can potentially limit the Alliances’ ability to surveil developing nations in Asia and Africa effectively. To plug this gap, the alliance members collaborate with third-party nations, such as South Korea, Singapore, Japan, and Israel.
As such, third-party contributors are additional sources of information for the alliance members. They also share surveillance technology with these third parties. However, third-party contributors do not bear the same obligations and responsibilities as alliance member nations.
What Data Do the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes Collect?
The Eyes Alliances were initially focused on monitoring traditional forms of communication and signals information, such as telephone conversations and text messages. However, the 2013 leaks of sensitive documents on the Five Eyes’ surveillance practices by Edward Snowden revealed that the scope of surveillance was much wider.
Indeed, the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances now collect a lot more data, including:
Communications data: Includes contents of phone calls, emails, and text messages. Metadata, which provides context about the communications — such as their time and location, is also included.
Internet activity: Intelligence agencies also capture and share data on search queries, social media activity, browsing history, and other online activities. Most nations have laws that require ISPs to retain user activity logs.
Location data: Location sensors in electronic devices, computer browsers, and other tracking systems collect data about a person’s whereabouts. Intelligence agencies can scrutinize this data to know more about a suspect’s location.
Financial data: Agencies often track financial information, such as credit card usage and bank transactions, to create money trails, locate suspects, or freeze their assets.
Biometric information: Fingerprints, iris scans, and DNA information are key biometric markers used to identify individuals by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
What Surveillance Systems Do the Eyes Alliances Use?
The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances have developed a number of surveillance systems and networks to streamline information collection and sharing. Some of the prominent surveillance systems used by the Eyes Alliances are:
ECHELON: Developed by the Five Eyes during the Cold War, Echelon was used to monitor and intercept communications from Soviet Russia and the People’s Republic of China.
STONEGHOST: A highly secured network used to share information about military and intelligence topics among the Five Eyes. In 2012, a Canadian Marine was sentenced to 20 years for downloading and selling data from the STONEGHOST network.
PRISM: Perhaps the most well-known surveillance system used by the Eyes Alliances, PRISM was operated by the NSA, GCHQ, and ASD, to obtain information from US internet companies. The 2013 Snowden leaks revealed the vast extent of online surveillance being carried out by these countries.
XKeyscore: A metadata analysis tool developed by the NSA, XKeyscore allows intelligence agencies to search through emails and other online communication metadata without prior authorization.
How Do the Eyes Alliances Impact User Privacy?
The complex and confidential surveillance carried out by the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes raise several concerns for user privacy and anonymity online. We’ve highlighted some of the most pressing concerns below:
Mass surveillance: The alliances collect data on a large scale, often indiscriminately. This means that even individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing can have their data collected and analyzed, a clear violation of user privacy.
Undermining encryption: The alliances have increasingly tried to undermine encryption, a vital tool for protecting privacy and online security. For example, in 2020, they warned internet companies of the perils of end-to-end encryption and urged them to create backdoors for law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Data sharing: The alliances share the data they collect with each other, effectively creating a global surveillance network. As such, intelligence agencies in one nation can collect and share information about citizens in another without complying with privacy requirements. For instance, under the PRISM program, UK agencies collected data about US citizens and shared it with the NSA.
Compromising anonymity: In addition to undermining encryption, the alliances have also sought to compromise anonymity online by requiring ISPs and TSPs to log user data and provide access when required. Additionally, member countries have often asked VPN providers to share user logs for law enforcement purposes. Notably, “no logs” VPN provider IPVanish led Homeland Security to a Comcast IP address via user logs, while VPN provider Riseup opted to comply with FBI warrants “rather than facing contempt of court.”
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself From the Eyes Alliances?
Given the expansive and pervasive nature of surveillance by the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances, it’s difficult to evade surveillance completely. However, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the scope of personal information available online.
Switch to an anonymous email service provider
Emails constitute one of the most common sources of communication information for the Eyes Alliances. Anonymous service email providers prevent your emails from ending up in the wrong hand by encrypting them and removing any personal information, such as your IP address.
Like anonymous email providers, end-to-end encrypted messaging services ensure that Governments and ISPs cannot pry on your messages. The only way to access your messages is if the agencies control your device.
However, not all end-to-end encrypted messaging apps are the same. For instance, WhatsApp is based in the US and can be forced to give up information to the NSA. It also shares information with other Meta apps, like Instagram. Conversely, apps like Signal are privacy-focused and resist attempts by governments to acquire user communications.
Take a deeper look at these two in our piece about Signal vs. WhatsApp and their six key privacy differences.
Choose a privacy-friendly browser
The Tor browser is one of the best browsers if you care about anonymity and personal protection. However, it can be slow and clunky. Check out our article on the best browsers for privacy for some alternatives to Tor.
Use a reliable VPN provider
While privacy-friendly browsers and messaging services encrypt some of your online information, a lot of it still remains accessible. For instance, your IP address remains visible to other websites on the internet. This is where a VPN comes in handy, as it encrypts all your online traffic and prevents prying eyes from seeing what you’re doing online.
However, there’s one thing that should be noted: if you want to use a VPN to escape the reach of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes countries, you should choose a VPN that isn’t based in one of these countries. Our top pick is the Panama-based NordVPN — which we’ll go into more detail on in the next section.
Many providers might be forced to hand over information simply because their HQ is located in, for example, the United States — as is the case with StrongVPN.
Best VPNs Outside the 14 Eyes Alliance
There are a number of good VPNs that are based outside the 14 Eyes countries. However, there are a number of additional factors to consider when choosing a VPN to protect yourself from global surveillance:
Encryption standards and protocols used by providers to secure your information
The extent of its data collection and logging practices
Network of servers globally, and in the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes countries
After extensive testing based on the above criteria, we shortlisted the following three as the best VPNs outside the 14 Eyes Alliance.
1. NordVPN: Security-focused VPN based in Panama
Encryption protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, Wireguard
Number of servers: More than 5,700 in 60+ countries
Audited and certified no-logs policy
Offers obfuscated servers and DoubleVPN
NordVPN is our highest-ranked VPN. Their company’s headquarters is situated in Panama, which isn’t a part of the 5, 9, or 14 Eyes alliances. Panama also doesn’t have mandatory data retention laws, which means NordVPN isn’t legally bound to store user activity logs.
Not only is NordVPN based outside the Eyes Alliances, but it’s also one of the most secure VPNs we’ve tested. User data is secured using AES-256-bit encryption and the latest protocols, including the proprietary Wireguard protocol. It also has an automatic kill switch on most devices, which keeps your data safe in case your VPN connection is disrupted.
NordVPN is serious about user privacy, reflected in its no-logs policy, which has been audited by Deloitte as recently as 2023. This means it couldn’t hand over user logs to agencies even if they legally demanded it. Nord’s Onion over VPN and Double VPN features can help provide added anonymity and protection, and surveillance.
To access content available only in 14 Eyes countries, you will need a VPN with an extensive North American and European server network. NordVPN stands out in this regard and has one or more servers in all 14 Eyes nations. Its servers deliver excellent speeds and help unblock all kinds of content, including TV and some of the best free sports streaming sites.
Get more information on this provider’s speed, safety, and privacy in our full NordVPN review. NordVPN offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, which lets you try out its features and cancel the subscription at no cost if you don’t like it.
Save big with 68% off a two-year subscription plus 3 months free!
2. ExpressVPN: Private, secure VPN set up in neutral BVI
Encryption protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, Lightway
Server network: 3,000+ in 94 countries
Excellent speeds across servers
Simple user interface makes it great for beginners
ExpressVPN is one of the best options for people that aren’t familiar with VPNs, and don’t mind paying for premium. While it’s on the more expensive side, it’s incredibly fast and easy to use.
It’s based in the British Virgin Isles, which is a jurisdiction separate from the UK. Your data will be safe from exchange between 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries. It also appeared in our list of best no-log VPN providers since they’ve proven they won’t record user activity on their servers.
ExpressVPN’s security features are also excellent. It uses leading encryption protocols and has developed its own Lightway protocol, which improves speeds without compromising security. It also offers automatic obfuscation, which is helpful in countries where VPN use and encryption are frowned upon.
ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries, including the US, UK, Norway, Canada, France, Germany, and France. Browsing content that is geo-blocked outside the 14 eyes countries is a breeze with ExpressVPN.
While ExpressVPN is expensive, it offers a 30-day free trial to let potential buyers test out applications. Our full ExpressVPN review is packed with details and statistics about ExpressVPN’s overall performance.
Get the annual subscription for only $6.67 per month!
Very easy-to-use VPN
Perfect for anonymous browsing, downloading, and streaming (i.e., Netflix)
3. CyberGhost: HQ in Romania, rock-solid security and no-logs policy
Encryption protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, WireGuard
Server network: 9,000+ servers in 90 countries
Extremely affordable plans
Long 45-day money-back guarantee
CyberGhost is another popular VPN. This provider has teams working in both Romania and Germany. However, their main office is in Romania, which places them outside the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes jurisdiction.
While CyberGhost lacks some advanced VPN security features, such as Double VPN, it is reliable and consistent when protecting users. It uses leading protocols, such as OpenVPN and IKEv2, to encrypt user traffic and prevent ISPs and governments from prying on it.
CyberGhost does collect some personal user information. However, it strictly segregates personal and non-personal data to safeguard your identity online. It also doesn’t log any user information.
The 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries form a gigantic Western alliance that exchanges sensitive information and uses mass surveillance. It has become a near-global spying network. The agreements of the alliances enable these countries to bypass national privacy laws and get their hands on more information than necessary.
If you live in one of the 14 Eyes countries, your government could share any information with other alliance members. Therefore, employing online privacy best practices and investing in a good VPN is essential.
NordVPN is the best overall VPN for the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes as it pairs strong security and privacy with excellent speeds and a vast server network. Since it’s based in the jurisdiction of Panama, you’re safely outside allianced countries. While a VPN is the first line of defense in personal security and privacy, anonymous email providers, end-to-end encrypted messenger apps like Signal and privacy-friendly browsers provide additional layers of protection.
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes: Frequently Asked Questions
If you have a question about the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances, we might be able to help you out. Simply click one of the queries below to see the answer.
What does 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes mean?
5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes refer to alliances between countries that monitor, log, and exchange surveillance data. These countries gather information about their citizens and share it with each other when needed. Many have referred to it as a global spying network.
What does the 5 Eyes Alliance do?
The 5 Eyes Alliance is comprised of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It was set up post-World Word II to share surveillance information about Soviet Russia and China. The 5 Eyes members capture and share data for national security purposes. Such data often includes personal information about their citizens.
What does 14 Eyes mean?
14 Eyes refer to a broad-based surveillance alliance. It is comprised of Northern American, European, and Oceanic nations, such as Canada, the US, Australia, Norway, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The 14 Eyes capture and share surveillance information with each other on the pretext of safeguarding national security.
What can you do to protect yourself from surveillance by the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes?
A VPN can be an effective tool against mass surveillance. When you connect to a VPN server, your IP address will change to the VPN server’s IP. Your online actions can now only be traced back to the VPN server, not to you.
Just make sure you choose a VPN that isn’t based in one of the 5, 9, and 14 Eyes countries. We’ve rounded up the top three providers in our guide, with NordVPN emerging as the best VPN for Eyes Alliances.