Skip to content

What You Should Know About the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes Alliances

Have you ever wondered if someone is watching when you browse the web or chat with friends online? You‘re not paranoid – government surveillance alliances called the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes monitor a staggering amount of the world‘s communications. Read on to understand these alliances, their far-reaching capabilities, and most importantly, how to better protect your personal data in the digital age.

The Origins of the Alliances

The 5 Eyes alliance has its roots in the UKUSA Agreement, a secret treaty signed in 1946 between the United States and United Kingdom. It established protocols for the two countries to share intelligence, especially signals intelligence (SIGINT) like communications data. This laid the foundation for today‘s expansive surveillance system.

Over the decades, additional countries joined the alliance:

  • 1948 – Canada becomes a member
  • 1956 – Australia and New Zealand join
  • Post-Cold War 1990s – Rapid advancement in technology enables increased scale of surveillance capabilities
  • Post-9/11 2000s – Terrorism concerns become justification for heightened global monitoring of communications

The 5 Eyes formed the core alliance that later spawned the 9 Eyes and 14 Eyes as more countries were incorporated:

  • 9 Eyes – 5 Eyes plus Denmark, France, Netherlands, Norway
  • 14 Eyes – 9 Eyes plus Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden

But the 5 Eyes remains the most exclusive circle of surveillance cooperation.

How Big is the Scale of Monitoring?

The exact volumes of data collected are secret, but leaks indicate the alliances monitor enormous amounts of information. Some statistics:

  • 15-25% – Estimated portion of all internet traffic going to the NSA (5 Eyes)
  • >15 petabytes – Data stored by NSA as of 2007
  • >85% of all internet traffic – Amount observed by the GCHQ (5 Eyes) as of 2012
  • Billions of records collected daily across the alliances

Surveillance programs like PRISM and Tempora allow the alliances to directly access servers of internet companies to retrieve emails, chats, web activity, and more.

What Are Their Capabilities?

The alliances have collaborated to develop surveillance programs on a global scale:

  • Tapping fiber optic cables – Accessing the backbone of global internet communications
  • Tracking communications metadata – Including call records, emails sent/received, etc.
  • Reading content of emails and messages – Permitted by certain national laws
  • Hacking computers and phones – To activate cameras and microphones
  • Analyzing social media – Facebook posts, tweets, etc. can be monitored

And the alliances freely share the intelligence they each collect by tapping into different data streams.

Privacy and Civil Rights Concerns

Privacy advocates have raised concerns about mass surveillance by the alliances:

  • Indiscriminate collection – Data is gathered from everyday citizens, not just threats
  • Limited oversight – Secretive programs have ambiguous accountability
  • 4th Amendment violations – In the U.S., warrantless surveillance contradicts protections against unreasonable search/seizure
  • Chilling effect – People self-censor expressing controversial views online due to monitoring

Public perception of the alliances also deteriorated following leaks revealing they:

  • Monitored billions of phone calls of average citizens in France and Spain
  • Intercepted and stored nude photographs of people under surveillance
  • Spied on economic allies like Germany

In response, some reformative measures have been taken such as the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015. But the scale of surveillance remains extremely far-reaching.

How Can You Protect Your Privacy?

Use a trustworthy VPN – Short for virtual private network, a VPN encrypts your internet traffic to shield it from surveillance programs. Choose one with servers outside the 14 Eyes countries. [Here is a comparison of top recommended VPNs].

  • NordVPN (Panama) – Fast speeds, but lacks transparency over management
  • ProtonVPN (Switzerland) – Run by researchers, strict no logs policy

Turn off cookies – Disable cookies in your browser settings to prevent online trackers from monitoring your activities across sites.

Use encrypted messaging apps – Apps like Signal and WhatsApp encode messages during transmission. Standard SMS texts have weak privacy protections.

Think before posting – Be mindful of sharing personal info online that could be pieced together by surveillance programs.

Support digital rights organizations – Get involved with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU which advocate for online privacy.

The bottom line is we all have a right to privacy, even in the digital age. While the 5, 9 and 14 Eyes conduct extremely far-reaching surveillance, citizens are not powerless. You can take steps to better guard your personal data and stand up for digital civil liberties.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.