The battle between “privacy” and “security” is one that has been fought for millennia. So long as there have been people trying to defend the lives and properties of citizens, there have been some who will go to any extent to accomplish that goal. Even if it means taking away a human right to privacy. Enter the 14 Eyes.

One of the biggest threats to privacy in the world is the “Eyes” agreements. There are actually several of them and they are generally an end-run around the law in the name of upholding it.

How Does International Surveillance Work?

Most United States residents are aware that their government routinely spies on citizens, whether through wiretaps or signal monitoring. Most famously, the US National Security Agency (NSA) conducts this surveillance. At least, that’s what people think.

Almost every country in the world has its own version of the NSA, from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the UK to Germany’s own Bundesnachrichtendienst (“Federal Intelligence Service” or BND). They are in charge of gathering intelligence, enforcing laws, and engaging in counterintelligence over communications and electronic signals. This is called “signals intelligence” (SIGINT) and can be very broad, though often not incredibly deep.

The thing to understand about SIGINT is that most countries have a legal barrier to contend with: they can’t spy on their own citizens. They are foreign intelligence agencies, at least on paper. However, if the NSA is monitoring a potential terrorist in London, they could share that information with the GCHQ. The Eyes agreements are just that: an agreement to share relevant information between countries so that foreign intelligence agencies can technically be following the letter of the law without blinding themselves to potential threats.

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The Eyes Agreements (Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, & 14 Eyes)

There are three major Eyes agreements in place globally, and a number of smaller ones that don’t have access to the NSA’s extensive XKEYSCORE surveillance database.

The first was the Five Eyes agreement, which started with only really two eyes: the US and the UK. Just after World War II, both nations were afraid of the growing power of the USSR, so they made a pact to share information with each other. Over time, they admitted Australia, Canada, and New Zealand to the agreement, and these five countries have some of the most extensive information sharing in the world. The worst thing about this one? The original treaty documents are classified, so the public has never been able to see the actual extent of the agreement is.

The 14 Eyes agreement is a separate agreement between the Five Eyes countries and nine European countries. It is officially known as the “SIGINT Seniors of Europe” (SSEUR) and, like the Five Eyes, was originally made to spy on the USSR. And again, the scope of their surveillance has grown significantly. It includes the Five Eyes countries plus Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden. We operate out of Switzerland in part because it’s not a member of the 14 Eyes.

The Nine Eyes is also an agreement that exists, but there are no official treaties governing this group. It is made up of the Five Eyes countries, as well as Denmark, France, The Netherlands, and Norway. It is an agreement between the SIGINT agencies of these nations to share information, but without the force of law to compel it.

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Why So Many Agreements?

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed there is a lot of overlap between these agreements. In fact, the Five Eyes is a part of all three of them. Why?

The scope of information sharing changes between agreements. All of the Five Eyes countries are “second parties” to one another, meaning that they have the most access to information like ECHELON data or XKEYSCORE intercepts.

However, the members of the Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes agreements are considered “third parties” to one another. This can also apply to organizations like NATO or allies like South Korea. While being the third-party comes with heavier restrictions on what data you can access, it also has a key benefit: second party nations can’t spy on any second party country’s citizens. However, third-party nations can legally do so, and according to the data Edward Snowden leaked, the NSA has used this loophole extensively.

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You Need to Protect Yourself from the 14 Eyes

Hopefully, you now understand how pervasive this international surveillance can be. Even if you have legal protections, they can and have been ignored and bypassed. If you live in any country with a SIGINT agency that shares information with other countries, you could potentially be spied on by any of them.

That’s why having a VPN is so important. When you connect to a virtual private network, your data is hidden and secure. PrivadoVPN uses 256-bit AES encryption on everything that passes through our servers. That’s the same encryption standard that those SIGINT agencies use to protect their own information. It would take trillions of years for the fastest computer on Earth to break it. Even if the NSA, GCHQ, BND, or any other agency intercepts your communication, they would be unable to read it.

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