Guest Post: 14 Eyes – A Serious Threat to Your Online Privacy

by Mila Bera

The digital revolution transformed the dynamics of communication, and several governments responded to these changes by further enhancing their surveillance and detection powers. This paved the way for a surveillance dragnet that’s intercepting massive volumes of online chatter, private emails, and phone calls.  


These clandestine activities are being spearheaded by a secretive coalition referred to as the 14 Eyes. Critics accuse the intelligence alliance of Orwellian-style surveillance, while governments claim the programs only target suspected terrorists and other bad actors.  

What Is the 14 Eyes Alliance?


The origins of this alliance date back to the 1940s when the US and the UK inked an agreement to share intelligence. The alliance initially grouped five countries, which are still referred to as the 5 Eyes – the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Over the years, the alliance expanded to include more countries, gradually becoming 9 Eyes and then 14 Eyes.


The alliance includes the following 14 countries:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Sweden


In addition to this list of countries, the alliance has partners. While these affiliates aren’t official members, they aid the 14 Eyes by collecting and sharing data. Some have very intimate relationships with Western intelligence networks and work very closely with the alliance’s surveillance initiatives.  


The affiliates include:

  • Israel
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • British Overseas territories


The Alliance’s Activities


Many people had never heard of the 14 Eyes alliance prior to the publication of documents provided by whistleblower and former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Those documents threw the global spotlight on the alliance’s extensive eavesdropping programs and the sharing of highly sensitive surveillance data. Since then, the 14 Eyes is widely regarded as a threat to our online privacy. So, what exactly does the alliance do, and should the average Internet user be concerned?


The alliance was originally formed during the Cold War to decrypt Soviet intelligence. In theory, at least, its programs were always designed to safeguard the national security of member states.  That doesn’t mean that it’s actively monitoring every person’s internet activities or chasing down everyone who looks at what may be perceived as questionable content. It’s safe to say that a DJ pirating an mp3 file off of a sketchy site or someone ordering an adult toy online is unlikely to get much attention from this alliance.


That said, it is now abundantly clear that intelligence partnerships forged during the Cold War are scooping up massive amounts of data on ordinary citizens. And unlike their initial agreements, their activities are no longer restricted to signals intelligence.  

Why Is 14 Eyes a Threat?


The mass surveillance program overseen by this powerful alliance that groups dozens of governments and a massive network of intelligence agencies isn’t just unsettling, it is also unlawful.


A 2020 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found the warrantless collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records to be a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The court even said that these programs might be unconstitutional.     


Even more worrying is the fact that the jurisdiction of the alliance extends beyond the borders of its members. Moreover, countries within the 14 Eyes alliance can and have used other participating countries as surveillance proxies. This way, the members of the alliance are able to trade information about each other’s citizens and directly spy on their own people.


There is another troubling dimension to this whole saga. Over the years, we’ve seen instances of online services that claimed to be privacy-focused stores and share private user data with government agencies. This was especially troubling when it came to VPN providers. That’s why experts recommend avoiding providers that are headquartered in the 14 Eyes member states.


Hiding From the 14 Eyes


Knowing which tools and services to use to avoid the prying eyes of intelligence agencies will help you improve your privacy online. Services that truly do not store or track user data are the way to go in this situation.


Start with search engines. Consider switching from giants like Google to engines like DuckDuckGo, Searx, and Swisscows. These are reliable, privacy-focused alternatives. They may not provide as many results as Google, but you won’t be handing out your history for a bit of convenience.


It’s a similar situation with email clients. That is why ProtonMail became a webmail service of choice for many tech-savvy users. Unlike Yahoo and Google, it’s based in Switzerland and has a history of fighting for total internet privacy.


Lastly, you can get a VPN. There are many great VPN services in the market, but keep in mind two things: pick VPNs that are located outside the 14 Eyes jurisdiction and choose services with zero-log policies. That way, none of your browsing information gets stored or passed on to third parties.

About the author: Mila Bera is a Toronto born, puppy-lover and passionate blogger. Traveling the world and proving people wrong is my specialty and hobby. Love reading up on the newest trends and have a passion for anything creative and trending.

Photo by Anete Lusina: