When looking for the best VPN service to use, you’re likely to run into the terms “5 eyes countries,” “9 eyes countries,” and “14 eyes countries”. In this article, we explain what they mean, which countries are included, and how they factor into your choice of VPN services.

What the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries terms mean

The 5 Eyes—some referred to as FVEY—is an intelligence alliance between five countries, which started in the early 40's. The countries included are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The 9 Eyes is an extension of this alliance. In addition to the core five countries, it includes France, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands.

The 14 Eyes countries include those in the 9 Eyes, as well as Italy, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and Spain. It’s also referred to as SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR) and it coordinates “the exchange of military signals intelligence among its members,” according to Wikipedia.

A little background on these alliances

The original purpose of the 5 Eyes was to share intelligence. It started as an ‘informal agreement’ in 1941 and was initially known as the UKUSA agreement. In 1946, after WWII, the agreement was formalized expanding the alliance to include the other core countries in the following years.

Thereafter, other nations joined the alliance and together it became the 9 Eyes and later the 14 Eyes countries. The other countries beyond the core five joined the alliance as ‘third-party countries.’ Many believe that other countries, such as Singapore and South Korea (the ‘Pacific Allies’), have since joined the scheme.

By their nature, these alliances have been highly secretive. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Australian Prime Minister became aware of the 5 Eyes scheme almost 30 years after the initial formation of the agreement. The alliance was revealed to the public in 2005. It has been possible to peruse some of the alliance’s data on the UK’s National Archive Website since 2010.

Controversy surrounding the 5 Eyes alliance in recent years

Following Edward Snowden’s revelations, which tied the NSA to the 5 Eyes agreement, the alliance became relevant in mainstream media. Snowden demonstrated that Cold War era agreements were still in force today for the purpose of undertaking global digital surveillance.

The fact that national intelligence alliances were being used for more than signal surveillance become evident. Essentially, the alliances enable intelligence agencies from various countries to collaborate and share information about everything from national security matters to defense and human intelligence.

For example, in 2013, Snowden revealed that the GCHQ in the UK does extensive work for the NSA. For privacy advocates, one of the most shocking revelations was that governments used the framework of the 5 Eyes alliance to circumvent privacy laws. For instance, the MI5 can ask the NSA to eavesdrop on UK citizens, thereby ‘bypassing’ laws regarding the privacy of citizens.

What do the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances do?

If you’re among the people highly concerned about their online privacy, this is a crucial question. It’s safe to say that the activities of the intelligence agencies within these alliances are geared toward more than simply keeping citizens in their countries safe.

Among Edward Snowden’s most shocking revelations was NSA’s PRISM program. This was a mass data collection program that involved reputable global organizations including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. PRISM made it incredibly easy for NSA analysts (even low-ranking ones) to access user information on popular platforms, meaning other countries could leverage this ability thanks to the alliances. Even if you believe that you have nothing to hide or fear, knowing that the NSA and its allies can eavesdrop on your Skype conversations is unsettling.

Not to mention the fact that most intelligence agencies are known for employing underhand methods—such as hacking encryption algorithms and paying online security companies to weaken their systems—in order to facilitate surveillance. Granted, the primary purpose of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances might not be to spy on ordinary citizens. Nonetheless, the intelligence-sharing alliances give too much power to the agencies.

What do the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances have to do with VPNs?

For many people, the main reason for using a VPN is to avoid being monitored while they’re online. It, therefore, stands to reason that you should avoid using a VPN service that’s based in one of these alliances—especially the 5 Eyes countries—or has some of its servers in one or more of the member countries. Such a provider might be compelled by the government to hand over information about online activities of its customers and without you ever knowing. In turn, the information may easily find its way to any of the other countries in the intelligence-sharing agreement.

This raises another question: Is it a good idea to connect to the Internet using a VPN server in one of the 5 Eyes countries or other alliances? The answer is that there is some risk. A 5 Eyes country can legally compel a provider to hand over users’ connection logs. The country’s intelligence might even monitor the VPN server’s inbound and outbound traffic. However, if the provider takes the appropriate security measures, such as deleting connection logs after every session, the risk is small.

That said, the most effective way of eliminating the risk is by using a VPN provider that operates outside the jurisdiction of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries.

Choosing the correct VPN based on the above knowledge

A good place to start would be considering providers that have a strict no-logging Privacy Policy. This means that the provider should not maintain any logs of your online activity so that in case it is compelled to hand over your information, it wouldn’t have any information to share. By selecting a VPN provider that operates outside the jurisdiction of the 5 Eyes, 9 Eyes, and 14 Eyes countries, and also keeps no logs of your browsing activity, you drastically minimize the risk of being spied on.