This is just a tiny little portion of the entire data created per minute all around the world.
Some of it is yours.
But as much as it sounds fascinating, it’s also scary thinking what will happen if this data falls into the wrong hands.
Data breaches are on the rise, as at least 7.9 billion records have been exposed in 2019 alone.
At the same time, online surveillance has taken many forms and poses a very serious problem. It can come from your internet service provider or a hacker lurking around.
Another thing that gained massive attention over the last couple of years is the government’s use of surveillance technologies that go against every right to one’s privacy.
Since Snowden’s leaks back in 2013, it’s no longer a secret that some governments around the world are monitoring the use of the internet.
That means they get access to everything that you do online, from the very minute you start using your phone, computer, or any other device that you can connect to the internet.
You’ll often come across the terms Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes as one of the biggest threats to your online privacy. These are international surveillance alliances formed between countries around the world.
Their intention is to make their espionage work easier, with the downside of making your life a lot less private.
To shed light on how these espionage agencies influence your online privacy and how to protect yourself, in the text below, among other things, I will be disclosing the following:
The history of the infamous Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes dates back to the 20th century.
It started during the post-World War II period, long before the internet was around.
For a long time, the existence of a surveillance network was kept a secret.
At first, it was used to gain strategic advantage over the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War.
Initially, there were two countries, the United States and the United Kingdom. They partnered up through an intelligence agreement, called the UKUSA Agreement that was officially enacted in 1946.
The U.S. and the U.K. strengthened their partnership amidst the Cold War and other significant events that followed on a global level, including the increase in terrorism.
By 1956, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada joined this espionage agency and formed what we know today as Five Eyes.
The growth of the internet created new ‘opportunities’ for spying.
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) played a major role in the government’s online surveillance with its PRISM program that was used to collect internet communications from many U.S. internet companies, including tech giants Apple and Google LLC.
A lot of countries were involved in the mass spying that occurred around the globe, including the Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes countries, which I will tackle later in the article.
After decades of spying, Edward Snowden shed some light on the situation.
He exposed documents, proving the mass use of advanced technologies to spy on people.
Snowden obtained the leaked confidential documents while working as an NSA contractor at the time.
It was a scandal on a global scale. Some governments and internet companies argued that this was merely a way to keep their nations safe.
However, people were quick to realize just how much their privacy was, in fact, jeopardized.
Five Eyes countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
For more than half a century, these countries executed their surveillance in secret.
Not many people knew about their activities, how they managed their operations, or what they could do.
Today, we still don’t know exactly everything, but some things are out in the open.
The Five Eyes are backed up by numerous agencies that collect private information.
The U.S. works closely with the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The Australian government also relies on five surveillance agencies, the U.K. on four, and New Zealand and Canada on three.
Each of these agencies has a role in the Five Eyes.
They provide different types of intelligence, which I will tackle later in the article.
The two most prominent ones were, and still are, the NSA and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). They maintain a close partnership to this day.
All five countries share significant amounts of intelligence within their closed circle.
They collaborate with some corporations as well, but more on this later.
I will be discussing the programs that the FVEY (The Five Eyes) use for collecting data later, but I must mention PRISM in this context as well.
It’s one of the main tools for accessing information on platforms that you use every day, such as your email, Skype, or Facebook.
Through these tools, they can see pretty much everything.
The FVEY are not allowed to spy on each other’s citizens.
However, during the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden accused the nations of violating that rule, willingly collecting information and sharing them, bypassing the law that forbids the agency of spying on its own citizens.
From spying and sharing intelligence they are also known to be an influence on many events throughout history.
Some of the most prominent is the coup in Iran in 1953.
The CIA and Britain’s SIS worked together on the project called “Project Ajax”.
Their mission was to overturn the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh who wanted to nationalize oil production.
In China, the FVEY executed “Operation Yellow Bird” to help Chinese demonstrators escape arrest following the notorious Tiananmen Square massacre.
All five countries involved in the FVEY, as well as the other closely collaborating with them, are abusers of privacy, but three countries definitely stand out.
The United States does not have an obligatory data retention law.
Still, if a communication service stores data, the government is allowed access to it.
Also, with the Stored Communications Act (SCA) under the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which the U.S. government enacted back in 1986, stored data can be kept for up to 180 days upon government request.
In March 2017, ISPs were also authorized by the government to store and sell users’ data to third parties.
With the Investigatory Powers Act enacted in 2016, the U.K. government pressures ISPs and telecoms to record their users’ activities.
That includes everything from browsing history to text messages.
The ISPs can keep the recorded data for as long as two years.
The government’s agencies have access to this data, and they can obtain it without any warrant.
Similar to the U.S., Australia does not have a mandatory data retention law, but it has concerning regulations that go against the users’ right to privacy.
Namely, in 2015, the Australian Parliament passed an amendment to the Telecommunications Act that allows ISPs and other telecom companies to keep records on their users’ activities. The data can be kept for up to two years.
The Nine Eyes is basically an extended branch of the Five Eyes.
It consists of the same five countries, plus Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and France.
The cooperation, however, between these countries is less intense unlike FVEY.
The list goes even further when the Nine Eyes are joined by Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
This collaboration is also known as SSEUR or SIGINT Seniors Europe.
As with the Nine Eyes, the interaction between the 14 Eyes countries is not on the same level as it is within the FVEY. Nonetheless, the countries still benefit from the alliance by getting access to intelligence data.
The massive espionage alliance used all sorts of spying programs to gain intelligence, and here are some of the known ones:
ECHELON was originally the code name for the FVEY.
However, now, it represents the most prominent surveillance program used within the 14 Eyes.
ECHELON is a network of electronic spy stations operated by the U.S. with the help of its allies.
The program is used to spy on electronic devices, including telephones and computers, and it has the capacity to store millions of records on individuals and organizations.
However, it’s interesting to mention that the U.S. denies the existence of this system, although there have been several people that claim that ECHELON does, in fact, exist.
PRISM, which I already mentioned, is the code name for a tool used by the NSA that collects data from internet companies, including all of the big names in the industry like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, and Facebook.
According to The Guardian, Microsoft even collaborated with the NSA to help them circumvent their encryption, providing access to PRISM to access data on their users.
In other words, PRISM can intercept your emails, videos, live chats, voice-over-IP chats such as Skype, and even your file transfers.
Just imagine the scope of accessible information that PRISM can gather within seconds.
The GCHQ uses a spying tool that intercepts internet traffic, by placing data interceptors on fiber-optic cables that transfer internet traffic within the U.K. and abroad.
It’s another way to massively spy on internet users, and the code name for this system is Tempora.
Saying that Tempora is used for mass espionage would be an understatement.
It records approximately 10GB of data per second, and it does not have a targeting system, which means it collects pretty much everything from anyone.
Another U.K. surveillance program is MUSCULAR.
The NSA and the GCHQ jointly operate it, and the system collects twice as much data as PRISM.
MUSCULAR secretly intercepts communications from Yahoo and Google data centers.
However, since this reveal to the public in 2013, Google has allegedly strengthened its security.
Upstream is the U.S. version of Tempora.
The NSA used it to directly intercept fiber-optic-cables connected to the country.
The proper way of explaining what XKEYSCORE means is to compare it to your Google search, only adjusted for espionage.
It’s a mass database with billions of personal information that are accessible to the FVEY countries.
The mass surveillance spread even further than the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes countries.
There are third party contributors to this alliance, as well as other espionage alliances formed through the world for the same reasons.
It’s hard to tell exactly which countries are included in this since there are a lot of unofficial claims and very little official information.
These are the unofficial partners that contribute intelligence to the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes.
Singapore and South Korea are some of the third-party contributors to this worldwide intelligence-sharing. They mainly provide information about Asian countries.
Also, Israel is another valuable asset to the alliance, especially to the NSA.
According to the Guardian, The Memorandum of Understanding shows that NSA shares raw intelligence with Israel, without previously filtering it to remove U.S. communications.
Other resources claim that the NSA maintains a ‘listening station’ in Jerusalem, because of its preferable location, which is probably the reason why Israel, even though it’s not a part of the FVEY, receives intelligence from the NSA.
Bermuda, the Falklands, Anguilla, and other island territories are also possibly unofficial alias to the FVEY.
Japan, France, and Germany are called the “Five Eyes Plus 3” since they have a close collaboration with the FVEY countries in their espionage.
Germany and France are already a part of the Nine and 14 Eyes, but in recent years, it’s believed that Japan also joined forces with the FVEY.
This alliance is an attempt to form a well-rounded information-sharing network on cyberattacks from countries like The People’s Republic of China.
Finally, it’s also important to mention the EU’s Club de Berne. It’s an intelligence-sharing forum between all of the EU’s 28 countries, plus Norway and Switzerland.
The institution is less severe than the FVEY and its formed alliances. Intelligence sharing between countries is voluntary.
Club de Berne has a special division that deals with terrorism intelligence, called the Counter-Terrorism Group.
All of the above-mentioned agencies have different responsibilities and roles in the surveillance alliance, including:
Did you know that Charlie Chaplin was targeted by the FVEY?
The prominent actor was one of the many people on their list, alongside actress and activist Jane Fonda and her husband, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, and some other high profile celebrities, politicians, and activists.
Still, there was a good reason behind every person or an organization that was targeted by the surveillance agency, and most of them revolved around the idea that these specific people and organizations were a possible hazard for the well-being of the nation.
Charlie Chaplin, for example, was being spied on by the government because of his alleged ties to communism back then.
Another notable individual targeted by the FVEY was Princess Diana. Both the NSA and GCHQ were surveilling the late Princess. It was later confirmed that they have accumulated thousands of pages of classified documents on her. It remains a mystery what is in those documents since the NSA refused to declassify them.
The FVEY also targets organizations on a global level.
Some of them, known to the public, are:
Obviously, this is just a small portion of the people and organizations that are under surveillance and that the public knows about.
The surveillance programs run within the alliance clearly suggest close cooperation between the two biggest spy agencies, the American NSA and the British GCHQ.
It all started with the UKUSA Agreement, which created this interdependent partnership that exists to this day.
A secret NSA document revealed to the public in 2018, elaborates the collaboration between NSA and GCHQ. According to the document, the U.S. – U.K Cryptologic relationship is the “oldest and most productive of NSA’s foreign partnerships”.
The document further reveals that “NSA and GCHQ jointly address collection plans to reduce duplication and maximize coverage through joint sites and cross-tasking, despite site closures”.
You might be wondering what Huawei has to do with all of this.
Huawei is a Chinese multinational technology company and a leader in providing information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and smart devices.
In 2019, the United States expressed concerns about Huawei’s possible obligations to the Chinese government. The company denied that it is being controlled by the Chinese government. Nonetheless, the FVEY blacklisted Huawei as a possible threat.
Huawei’s mass popularity and usage might cause security exposures, so back in April 2019, the FVEY decided not to use Huawei technology in their “sensitive” parts of telecom networks.
Now the real question – should you be worried?
You are most likely an average internet user and not a person of interest in the government. However, it’s still important to practice better security.
If you are living in one of the countries of the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes, there is a good chance that your information is collected as well.
And as bad as that sounds, it’s even worse that the government transfers this data to other countries.
Unfortunately, the overall consciousness of the people regarding their own privacy is still at a very low level.
Since the world found out about this massive espionage alliance and just how much access they have in our private lives, the awareness increased.
Still, it’s not nearly on a satisfying level.
Research shows that approximately eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe that their government is spying on their communications.
However, while most Americans disapprove of the idea to be spied on by their government, they believe that it’s acceptable for the U.S. government to spy on citizens from other countries.
Moreover, Seven-in-ten Americans think that their data is less secure now than it was five years ago.
With this, there is also an increase in VPN use around the world. Research carried out by NordVPN shows that most users choose a VPN for security reasons.
Approximately, 50 percent use it regularly or daily, and 73 percent at least a few times a week.
FVEY’s intentions are primarily set on fighting off illicit activities and national security.
Still, they should not use this as an excuse to conduct global espionage over regular internet users or to store personal and sensitive data.
So yes, you should be worried. Or at least you should be aware that this is happening.
With that being said, there are ways for you, as a privacy-conscious user, to protect your online privacy.
The best way to protect yourself from global surveillance is to improve your online habits and to use privacy and security tools, including a Virtual Private Network.
It is, however, a misconception that you only need anti-surveillance tools to stay private.
The whole situation is much more complicated. Sometimes even if you take all precautionary measures when you are communicating with a person who hasn’t done this, you are likely to be exposed.
That is why it is important for global awareness surrounding privacy to be increased. Until that happens, you are left with a few very important options that will help you stay protected from global surveillance.
Your VPN is an essential tool in your fight against mass surveillance.
It encrypts your traffic and assigns you with a different IP address, making it hard for espionage tools to see what you are doing online.
VPNs provide different levels of encryption and security protocols. Some of them fail to deliver maximum privacy and have been breached by the NSA.
Currently, your most secure option is a VPN that does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes or any of its allies. Also, one that offers the OpenVPN protocol with AES 256-bit encryption. Below, you will see a detailed list of this.
In case you can’t use OpenVPN, you can also try L2TP/IPSec protocols, although, unofficially, IPSec protocol is vulnerable and has been cracked by the NSA, and L2PT might also be compromised.
If you are willing to sacrifice your internet speed, you can also attempt using more VPNs.
For example, you can use one to encrypt your router, and then another one of your devices.
VPNs are great, but they should not be your only means for protection.
You should also consider using other privacy tools:
Google is one of your least secure options, for obvious reasons. DuckDuckGo can be an excellent and much more private alternative.
Keep in mind that the best way to stay fully protected is if you use your private search engine with a VPN.
Chrome is convenient and it’s the main browser choice for most internet users.
However, if you value your privacy, you might want to think twice before using it.
For me, a very decent substitute is Brave. It resembles Chrome, but it’s much better for data privacy.
The browser has built-in HTTPS Everywhere, blocks ads and third-party tracking.
I already mentioned that PRISM has a history of spying on Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.
That means Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, Yahoo or Gmail are not as secure as you’d think. Hence, you need another option.
There are a variety of email providers on the market that offer security and privacy, like ProtonMail or Hushmail. Of course, they have their disadvantages.
For example, they both have limited email storage, unless you use a premium version. ProtonMail also limits your amount of messages per day to 150 in the free version.
Still, overall, these two are a much safer option for you.
Ads are basically annoying tracing tools. So, apart from keeping you away from annoying ads, using an ad-blocker will also protect you from advertising companies that are collecting information on you.
Ghostery, as a privacy-conscious open-source ad-blocker, was even recommended by Edward Snowden as a good go-to tool to enhance privacy.
It can detect tracking scripts in real time, and block them immediately, enabling a more intuitive technology for privacy-conscious users.
Currently, the most privacy-friendly operating system is Linux because it is highly configurable, as opposed to Windows and macOS.
Linux is open sourced. That means the original source code is free for use.
The system is less likely to be keeping a backdoor in the code for its developers or spying technology.
There are many types of Linux-based operating systems, but Qubes OS is one of the best for privacy and security.
Keep in mind, however, Linux won’t be as simple to use as Windows or macOS.
It might take some time before you get used to it.
Finally, one of the main culprits in the massive surveillance around the world is our extensive use of smart devices.
The rise of technology has its good and bad sides, but the way these smart devices collect data about us is positively one of the worst aspects of owning them.
The apps on your phones, your Amazon Alexa, or any other smart device that you interact with during the day is a potential spy tool.
The existence of advanced spy programs like PRISM shows that many companies that you put your trust in every day are close collaborators to the FVEY, and they share your personal data.
I know how difficult it is, especially in this age of technology, but try and limit your use of smart devices, and make sure that you read privacy policies, no matter how boring they might seem to you.
Otherwise, it’s a big red alert for your privacy.
VPNs that are located in 14 Eyes countries are less likely to provide you with the proper security and privacy. They fall under jurisdictions that impose data retention, which is a big no you as a privacy-conscious user.
Not all VPNs under the jurisdiction of the 14 Eyes are bad.
|Five Eyes (USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada)||AceVPN (USA) |
Hide My IP (USA)
Hotspot Shield (USA)
Norton WiFi Privacy (USA)
Private Internet Access (USA)
RA4W VPN (USA)
Unseen Online (USA)
Virtual Shield (USA)
VPN Master (USA)
VPN Unlimited (USA)
Expat Surfer (UK)
My Expat Network (UK)
VPN Land (Canada)
|Nine Eyes (Denmark, France, The Netherlands, Norway)||BeeVPN (Denmark) |
GooseVPN (The Netherlands)
ProXPN (The Netherlands)
RootVPN (The Netherlands)
ShadeYou (The Netherlands)
WASEL Pro (The Netherlands)
WifiMask (The Netherlands)
|14 Eyes (Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain)||AzireVPN (Sweden) |
Avira Phantom VPN (Germany)
Fortunately for you, many great VPNs are outside of the 14 Eyes jurisdiction.
Keep in mind that even if a country is not part of the espionage alliance, it can still have mandatory data retention laws.
However, here are some of the best examples of VPNs located in privacy-conscious countries that won’t log your data.
NordVPN is based in Panama, a country that has no connections whatsoever with the 14 Eyes or any of its collaborators, and it does not have a data retention law.
NordVPN also offers excellent security features and maintains a no-logs policy.
As one of the leaders on the VPN market, ExpressVPN lives up to the expectations.
ExpressVPN is located on the British Virgin Islands, an autonomous country that does not fall under U.K. jurisdiction.
Another excellent option for you as a privacy-conscious user is CyberGhost.
The VPN is located in Romania, far from the 14 Eyes. Even though Romania is in the EU, the country has loose regulations on data retention.
Of course, there are other examples, but I chose these three in particular because they offer the “whole package” that you need from a reliable VPN service provider.
For a long time now, this has been a controversial topic.
Governments and organizations are trying to convince users that if they have nothing to hide, they should not be concerned with the mass surveillance happening around the world.
However, it’s not about “having something to hide” but about common sense and the right for privacy.
So now that you know everything there is to know about the Five, Nine, and 14 Eyes, it’s time to take control over your online privacy.
Help us to spread the word and create more awareness about the increasing invasion of privacy by sharing this article with your friends!