Technology is growing at a rapid pace, and with it grows governments’ surveillance capabilities. Many people are aware that global surveillance occurs, but we want to make sure you know what’s going on. We’ve put together a guide about the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes alliances so you can see just how invasive they are.

People are increasingly concerned about how much is known about them, from their browser histories to private conversations with mom. After all, everyone wants some form of privacy. Unfortunately, the world we live in doesn’t offer much. 

Many countries have surveillance systems, but the countries in the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes alliances work together to share data on a massive scale. In fairness, much of that surveillance is done to combat terrorism and organized crime. That doesn’t explain why innocent people are spied on every day, though. 

Your data can be collected in many ways. In some countries, such as the UK, data retention is mandatory. Internet service providers can collect your browsing history, and with many people using VoIP and online messaging apps, much more can be logged. Phone calls, text messages, emails and even your location history can be collected.

The Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes groups are big players in the global surveillance game. Each country involved can carry out surveillance in particular regions and share it with others in the alliance.

In this article, we look at which countries are in those alliances and what they can do.

What Is Five Eyes?

what-is-five-eyes

The Five Eyes are the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The Five Eyes alliance, also known as FVEY, was founded on Aug. 14, 1941 and can be traced back to the WWII period. During the second world war, the exchange of intelligence information between the UK and the U.S. was important, and the partnership continued afterward.

In 1946, the UKUSA Agreement was enacted, which formally established the partnership between the UK and the U.S. That tied the countries together with a network of listening posts, allowing intelligence information to be gathered and shared between them. Their surveillance capabilities have strengthened since. 

Over the next 10 years, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the alliance, and by 1955, the agreement was updated to formally include them. That said, it was so secretive, the Australian prime minister wasn’t told it existed until 1973. Plus, the fact that the agreement existed wasn’t known until 2005 and its content wasn’t made public until even later.

What Can the Five Eyes Do?

Five Eyes intelligence includes a surveillance system they developed, called ECHELON, to collect information through interception. It was originally used to monitor the former Soviets Union’s and the Eastern Bloc’s communications, but it’s now used to monitor the private communications of people around the globe. 

It’s a powerful tool that can listen to your phone calls and intercept other online communications. It can collect and store millions of records of information. Evidence of this system grew over time, but the U.S. and Great Britain denied its existence until the late 1990s when it was disclosed to the public. 

Since the War on Terror began in 2001, the Five Eyes’ surveillance capabilities have expanded, especially online. In 2013, former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed just how much surveillance was carried out, catching ordinary citizens along the way, and the NSA and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters were the worst culprits

The monitoring technology used is invasive and capable of collecting most information sent through any line or signal or stored on a device connected to the internet. Snowden exposed many surveillance programs, including:

  • THINTHREAD, which is a tool that analyzes relationships and patterns. It tells monitors which calls to listen to and what they should look for.
  • XKEYSCORE, which is an analyzing tool that indexes information, such as email addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, metadata and so on, stored at multiple global sites.
  • TEMPORA, which is a program that collects intelligence from undersea fiber optic cable taps.

The Five Eyes agreement also includes non-communications intelligence gathering. There are many ways in which that’s done:

  • SIGINT collects data from communications systems, weapons systems and radars, which is what the alliance primarily deals with. For you, that means any electronic communication with someone could be monitored.
  • HUMINT, which includes data collected from a human source. That could be information gathered by spies and interrogations.
  • GEOINT, which is where satellite imagery, maps and blueprints are used to obtain information on human activity.

Though most countries prohibit their governments from spying on their citizens, unless done with oversight, the Five Eyes agreement provides a loophole. Through it, other countries can spy on that country’s citizens for them and share the information they obtain. There’s little evidence of how often it happens, but there are instances that show it does.

In short, the Five Eyes alliance is home to the most powerful surveillance agencies in the world.

What Is Nine Eyes?

The Nine Eyes alliance consists of the Five Eyes countries, plus Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway. Though there’s evidence that the Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes exist, little is known about what they can and can’t do.

What we know is that the Nine Eyes group is an extension of the Five Eyes alliance, with similar cooperation to collect information through mass surveillance and share it. That intelligence sharing is more restricted for the additional partners, but the Netherlands is rumored to be home to at least one spying array, as you can read in our best VPN for the Netherlands piece.

Though the Five Eyes countries have automatic data-sharing agreements between them, the additional countries are considered third-party members and have less clearance. That means the intelligence-sharing abilities are narrower, but they can still engage in surveillance.

What Is 14 Eyes?

The 14 Eyes alliance is made up of the Nine Eyes countries, plus Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden. It’s an extension of the Five Eyes and Nine Eyes alliances, but its actual name is SIGINT Seniors Europe

Its purpose is to coordinate the exchange of military signals intelligence between its members. The intelligence shared can be raw data, not just finished reports. Again, though we know it exists, there’s little information about what the 14 Eyes alliance does.

Other Countries To Join the Five Eyes

Some countries within the third party network were or are interested in joining the Five Eyes alliance.

The U.S proposed that France join the Five Eyes alliance, to become the Six Eyes. French President Nicholas Sarkozy wanted to be granted the same status as other allies, though. That’d include signing the no-spy agreement to ensure the countries don’t gather intelligence on each other.

The director of the NSA approved the requirement, but the director of the CIA and President Barack Obama didn’t, so France refused. That said, more recent reports suggest that France is working more closely with them.

It has also been reported that Germany was interested in moving to the Nine Eyes group, perhaps even to the Five Eyes. 

Other countries have formed surveillance partnerships with the Five Eyes, too, such as the 43 Eyes, which is the 14 Eyes plus the members of the International Security Assistance Forces to Afghanistan. That was formed for a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan. 

Plus, there’s the Club de Berne, which is a forum for the intelligence-sharing services in 28 states in the EU that was founded in 1971. It’s based on voluntary exchanges, though, and the U.S. is not a member.

Security Concerns Surrounding Huawei 

There are serious concerns about Huawei’s involvement in building 5G networks. The Chinese telecommunications giant is not state-owned, but evidence shows that it has allowed Beijing to install spyware on its phones. Plus, Huawei manufactures many parts for other telecommunications equipment, so who knows what else has been going on.

With how bad China is, it’s not a good idea to involve a Chinese company in building such important infrastructure. There’s no way to know what the country will be able to do once the technology is in place. It could potentially enable China to conduct surveillance on everybody. 

That said, Huawei is one of the few companies that produce the equipment needed for the 5G infrastructure, so there aren’t many options. 

Those concerns caused the U.S. to reassess how information can be shared and how it’s connected with the allies that use the equipment, which could affect the Five Eyes alliance.

Final Thoughts

It can’t have escaped your notice that we’re being watched, but we hope this article has given you a more in-depth view of just what’s happening. Without whistleblowers and hackers, we wouldn’t know about half the surveillance being carried out by our governments.

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As technology improves, so does the capabilities for surveillance. Your best bet is to arm yourself with a secure VPN to help you stay anonymous. Check out our security library for more helpful articles about staying safe online. If we’ve left anything out, let us know in the comment section. Thank you for reading. 

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