All the conspiracies related to government that we used to think as fiction from the movies turned real when Edward Snowden exposed everything in 2013.
“There is an ancient saying that there is some truth to fiction.”
I wasn’t aware of Snowden or what he did until I saw his interview on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It was a spoof interview with no original material, but it was enough to intrigue me to do some research on his heroics and his life after the whole whistleblowing incident.
But the most important thing was that the level of information that he disclosed to the whole world. The documents clearly indicated that top governments of the world with the help of the NSA have been surveilling the daily activities of their citizens without their consent through different channels. Such channels included wiretapping, monitoring through webcams and CCTV cameras and other offline means.
The documents further revealed that the top countries had formed some sort of allegiance or alliance to share the user’s information whenever needed. Within the VPN community, people refer to such different alliances as the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes and Fourteen Eyes alliance.
The alliances mentioned above have the abundant resources and authority to collect and share the information that they have recorded of each citizen of the respective country. The largest source of data surveillance that these alliances use is monitoring through the ISPs or with the assistance of telecom companies.
In short, the countries involved with the alliances are working as one global-surveillance entity. Stay and read through this explainer as you’ll know what these alliances actually are, which country is in it, and how they invade the privacy of their citizens without any consent.
The Five Eyes Alliance
The Five Eyes surveillance (FVEY) alliance comprises of the following English speaking countries:
- The United States of America
- The United Kingdom
- New Zealand
The above-stated countries are the base of the most influential surveillance agencies in the world with the complete support of their governments.
The History of the Five Eyes
The pop culture told us frequently to fear the all-seeing eye. What in fact they didn’t tell us that it was not just the one-eye but a whole coalition of five-eyes.
This union dates way back from since the end of World War 2. It was the time when the United Nations was coming into existence, newly independent countries such as India, Pakistan, and China were forming, and lastly, secret alliances were establishing.
The alliance continued from the Korean War until the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The main focus of the so-called Five-Eyes Alliance was to work in tandem and assess the day-to-day activities of the citizens living in the respective countries and share the information when needed. Such level of surveillance exceeded the boundaries of non-allied countries for the sake of the superficial national security and to suppress the threats early.
9/11 Changed Everything
We got a tranquil era of the 90s as countries such as the USA and UK were recovering from the economic breakdowns and other internal crisis, much like the drug epidemic. All of it got rejuvenated again once the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center happened on 11th September 2001 in New York, USA. The countries felt the need to reignite the mass surveillance of the citizens to prevent something like the 9/11 incident from happening again. Such ideology led to the creation of “The Patriot Act” in the United States in 2001.
The Snowden Expose
With the bombardment of technological evolution and the potential it offered, the unholy alliance of the Five Eyes expanded their reach far beyond their borders across the whole globe. The whole agenda of being one step ahead of criminals also changed, and the governmental agencies started to spy on their own citizens, just because they had the power to do that. All that was exposed was Edward Snowden, who was working for the NSA as a contractor at that time when he shared the proof and 200,000+ documents with the journalist from the Guardian and the Washington Post.
The Five Eye alliance was baffled with the sudden revelations of their secret documents. The US President at that time Barrack Obama categorically denied that there was any sort of government-sponsored mass-surveillance program at play while English PM David Cameroon threatened “The Guardian” that published the documents with a DA lawsuit.
Snowden got charged with Espionage and had to flee the country. He has been living in Russia ever since.
How do they Spy on People?
It was easy for the likes of NSA to hack into the microphones of the phones and other household electronics along with the webcams and smartphone cameras.
The documents and other information that Snowden exposed pointed to that primary source of surveillance for these countries. With the assistance of the user’s Internet Service Provider(ISP) and the user-data the telecom companies possess, the government had direct access to every confidential information.
Other than that, countries like the UK passed laws such as the Investigatory Powers Act to legitimize the surveillance of the citizens. The ruling as mentioned earlier granted ISPs and telecom corporations working in the UK the power to keep a log of user information as small as their browsing history, text messages, and even the places they travel for as long as two years. It also offered the spy agencies to subpoena each log of the residing citizen whenever they wanted to have them.
The USA has been dealing with its struggle regarding Net Neutrality- A principle that pushed everyone to treat every data on the internet as the same, without any judgement. Since President Trump donned the office of P.O.T.U.S in 2016, there has been an increasing effort to repeal net neutrality that’ll give legal precedent to the ISPs and the government to manipulate the internet according to their liking. Additionally, the US government have been allowing the ISPs to collect user-data through the Orwellian mass surveillance collection methods under the PRISM program.
Furthermore, such type of surveillance has prompted the agencies to collect dirt on several politicians, celebrities, and activists to make them irrelevant in the eyes of the public, if they ever cause a stir.
Other countries like Australia and New Zealand have been mirroring the same techniques as their fellow members to monitor the day-to-day activities of the citizens.
Below are the security agencies of the Fatal Five that work day and night to share intelligence without user’s permission:
The Third-Party Contributors of the Five-Eyes Alliance
The intelligence sharing has reached far beyond the initial alliance. There is strong evidence that at least five more countries are unofficially the members of the Five-Eyes coalition, which are as follows:
- South Korea
- British Territories(Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and the Falkland Islands)
They provide and receive the necessary information whenever possible. However, these states do not enjoy the similar perks and status of the select Five members of the alliance. These states are staunch allies of the Five-Eyes in the trade as well as foreign policy-making. Their agencies work closely with the NSA when it comes to intelligence-sharing for the sake of national security and citizen protection.
France formally tried to join the alliance and make it the “Six-Eyes Coalition” in 2009, but the director of the CIA and the president of the US refused to grant full access of the data assembled by the NSA and CIA, which resulted in President Sarkozy retracting the proposal.
The Nine Eyes Alliance
The Nine-Eyes is a formal extension of the Five-Eyes with the inclusion of four more first world countries that obligate the VPN providers and the ISPs functioning in the countries to keep a log of online user activity and share them whenever required. It is all because of the revelations by Edward Snowden that the identity of this mysterious alliance got exposed.
The countries other than the Five-Eyes are as follows:
While the alliance is not as tightly knit like the one above them, the four remaining countries of the alliance share their intelligence information frequently and receive it as well. The primary point of exceeding the gesture to other country is to enhance the network of surveillance and monitor masses with extra resources.
The Fourteen Eyes Alliance
Again exposed through the documents shared by Edward Snowden and officially known as SIGINT Seniors Europe (SSEUR), the fourteen nation alliance consist of the members of the whole Nine-Eyes and five additional countries, where are as follows:
The purpose of this alliance was to cover intelligence sharing with friendly nations and gather additional resources for mass spying/surveillance. However, the coalition is not as close as the five-eyes one, and there is no formal agreement between the countries to share all the information the agencies of the countries have with them.
The Regions where even the VPN fail us
Other than collecting data through illegal phone-tapping or collecting logs through the ISPs and telecom companies, there is another entity, which the government forces to share the logs of their customers. They are the VPN providers that are operating in the countries mentioned above of the fourteen-Eyes Alliance.
And there is nothing they could do other than sharing their info under the name of the respective country’s privacy act. The main problem with the governments getting their hands on the VPNs servers is that it exceeds the reach of the intelligence agencies beyond the borders of the Fourteen-Eyes. It is because VPN providers have subscribers all around the world, and these agencies can collect the log of the users living in non-compliant countries.
Fortunately, we have collected the list of all the VPNs that are currently a part of the fourteen-eyes that may share your data with their governments and prevent you from using BitTorrent as well.
|VPNs in the USA||AnonVPN, Anonymizer, BTGuard, Cloak, CrypticVPN, CryptoHippie, Disconnect.me, FlyVPN, FoxyProxy, FrostVPN, GhostPath, GoTrusted, Hide My IP, HideIPVPN, Hotspot Shield, IncognitoVPN, IntroVPN, IPinator, IPVanish, LibertyVPN, LiquidVPN, MyIP.io, MyVPN.Pro, Netshade, Newshosting, Norton, Privacy, OctaneVPN, Private Internet Access, PrivateTunnel, RA4W VPN, SlickVPN, Speedify, Spotflux, StrongVPN, SunVPN, SuperVPN, Torguard, Tunnelr, Unseen, Online, Unspyable, VikingVPN, VPN Master, VPN Unlimited, VPNMe, VPNJack, WiTopia;|
|VPNs in the UK||FlowVPN, HideMyAss, LibertyShield, My Expat Network, OverPlay, TGVPN, TorVPN, TotalVPN, TVWhenAway VPN.sh, VPNUK, WorldVPN, ZoogVPN;|
|VPNs in Canada||Betternet, Blockless, GetFlix, RogueVPN, SurfEasy, TunnelBear, UnoTelly, VPN Land, Windscribe;|
|VPNs in Australia||Celo VPN, AUS VPN Secure;|
|VPNs in Israel||SaferVPN, VPNShazam;|
|VPNs in France||ActiVPN;|
|VPNs in Denmark||BeeVPN, Unlocator;|
|VPNs in the Netherlands||GooseVPN, ProXPN, ShadeYou, VPN4All, WASEL Pro, WifiMask;|
|VPNs in Germany||Avira Phantom VPN,ChillGlobal, GoVPN, Internetz.me, Steganos, Traceless.me, Zenmate;|
|VPNs in Italy||AirVPN;|
|VPNs in Sweden||AzireVPN, FrootVPN, Integrity.st, IPredator, Mullvad, OVPN, PrivateVPN, PRQ;|
The VPNs, as mentioned above, are pretty open about their policy and what type of user data they share with the security agencies. Besides, there are several VPNs such as NordVPN, ProtonVPN, and CyberGhost that do not comply with the Fourteen-Eyes alliance and do not keep a log of your data at all.
This may be out of our Hands
One might think that how on earth would we be able to protect our privacy against entities with all the resources in the world. It doesn’t matter which VPN you use or what policy of ISP is, these alliances have more than enough means of reaching out and collecting your every move.
The first thing that comes to mind is the satellite surveillance, which can track your every move. The other thing is our blind trust on companies like Facebook and Google, that reap the benefits by using and selling your data to advertisers and to the governments they function in, all without your direct consent.
The Importance of No-Log Policy
However, when it comes to VPN, all can be reversed if the VPN providers stop keeping any log of user activity within their servers. Then the Fourteen-Eyes won’t be able to access any data. It is the reason why ExpressVPN is the number one VPN in the world, even though it functions in the British Virgin Islands.
However, there are still some cases in the world where some VPN providers caved in and provided user information and logs to the government authorities, although they have a strict no-log policy.
There is no doubt that some rotten eggs may take advantage of the anonymity provided by the VPN service, that can result in crimes like cyberstalking and DDoS attacks. But it should not imply that all VPN users are criminals and that the governments should force the VPN providers to lift their collective no-log policy.
Check out best no-log vpn section
How to avoid Mass Surveillance?
Some people around you could feel that preventative measures against mass surveillance are close to borderline insanity. But the thing is that precautionary steps are vital to prevent your most personal information or any activity, for that matter, from leaking online, straight to the hands of the government. There are only a few things that you could do to be safe, which are as follows:
- Surround yourself with a much higher level of protection(privacy and security) than the average user.
- Make mass surveillance of your daily route much more difficult.
How to Enhance our Privacy?
In this section, we’ll discuss some of the precautionary measures to lessen the consistent spying done by the government of its citizen. If you are living in one of the regions that are the member of the Fourteen-Eyes Alliance, then this part of the discussion might interest you!
Get a VPN
Getting a reliable VPN might be the choice that could save you from everything. Not only does it scramble your IP address and make you anonymous online, but it also provides high-level 256-bit encryption to keep your data from falling on to the wrong hands while maintaining the internet speed.
Always research the security features of the potential candidates before subscribing to a service for a long time. It is better to pick a provider that works outside the jurisdiction of the fourteen-eyes and their non-official allies from the Asian-Pacific region. If you have the budget, then you should opt for the services of multiple VPN providers to keep the interested parties guessing.
Start Using other Privacy Tools
There are several alternative tools than the VPN that you could use to lessen the invasion of your privacy. Such tools are as follows:
- Use a private and secure email platform much like ProtonMail
- Use an alternative search engine such as Duck Duck Go!
- Use a private browser like the Tor browser
- Use Google alternative products
Avoid Using Digital Electronics all the Time
The illegal tapping of citizens occurs mostly when security agencies hack on to your smartphones and laptops and start using the built-in microphones as a listening device. The main thing that prompted Edward Snowden to step-up was the tapping of the webcams of the citizens by the NSA without the users’ knowledge or consent. While it is nearly impossible in the era that we live in to discard the usage of electronic devices entirely, the only thing you can do is to limit your activity around them.
- Stop using apps sponsored by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft
- Put tape on your Webcam. Crazy or not! It is as simple as that.
We are Fighting a War-Final Thoughts
One can easily fool people under the notion or misconception of patriotism and that governments are doing mass surveillance to provide security to its citizens and prevent terror attacks from happening. No one can be more wrong than people who learn to live with such thoughts. The whole ideology behind such an extreme level of privacy invasion is to assert dominance on the less-fortunate and to preserve the sanctity of the elite countries.
If it weren’t for Edward Snowden’s ultimate revelations, we wouldn’t have known about the surveillance done by the world’s high-level entities.
In simple words, we are fighting a war against privacy invasion, and every precautionary measure is fair in this war. First-world governments are too powerful to handle with their limitless resources and wealth. There isn’t much that we can do other than resist their policies and use alternative tools to limit their power, such as using a VPN, which has become essential than anything in the world today.