Though these intelligence networks have been around for decades now, they have come under increased scrutiny following the Huawei 5G scandal and recent Chinese attacks on Telegram and other US-based communications companies.
One huge Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes issue is the potential use of Huawei’s 5G products and security threats posed by the 5G rollout. Given the scale of information sharing between members of the network, the Chinese government infiltrating the infrastructure of any of them potentially compromises data collected anywhere.
Some suggest that, especially given the rising number of cyberattacks in recent years, that further centralisation and control of the communications network is necessary. Those proposing that starting a US Department of Cybersecurity is the solution to help to protect consumers might have another motive. This new Federal department would also ensure that intelligence collected via Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes is safe from China, Russia, or Iran.
On the other hand, the alliances also seem to have expanded to more countries. A few years ago, the US proposed that France (part of Nine Eyes) upgrade to the Five Eyes Alliance. The then-president of France, Sarkozy, said that this Alliance should go much further. Reports indicate that Germany (Fourteen Eyes) is now part of the Nine Eyes group.
At the broadest level, this co-operation is already evident.
There is even a 43 Eyes group, which extends 14 Eyes to the members of the International Security Assistance Forces for a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan.
It’s not clear how extending the network to more and more members equates to an increased threat profile that all these countries face. Surely including more countries increases the chances that secret information will be stolen or leaked?
Well, yes, but it also increases the surveillance capabilities of the core Five Eyes members, and especially the US. And at the end of the day, that might be a price worth paying.
Do global surveillance programs work?
The most critical question is this: do these surveillance programs ‘work’? Do they prevent crime, terrorism, and inter-state espionage?
Unfortunately, because of the operations of the highly secretive nature of the alliances, it is difficult to tell. However, even if they are effective, there is a broader principle at stake. All of these programs, and especially the PRISM system, collect information on everyday citizens, whether they have committed a crime or not. And that, in my opinion, is simply wrong.
What’s Joe Average to do?
When you’ve got governments watching your every move and major tech companies like Facebook collecting any scrap of data you leave behind, what’s the average citizen to do to maintain a modicum of privacy online? (Insert creepy extended laughter with an evil inflection). Sorry, that war is long lost, and there are no do-overs.
Your best bet, short of going off-grid and adopting an 1820 lifestyle, is to deploy the usual privacy/cybersecurity tools: a good security suite, firewall, and a VPN to encrypt your internet connection and mask your IP address.
Then stop entering your data into every form that comes along and pay attention to what privacy and end-user licence policies say. A little education and discretion go a long way.
There’s a couple of ways it might go from here. The first – personal privacy is lost, and it is not coming back. The second – blockchain and AI might eventually re-establish some of what we have lost.
Or it might hasten the pace of loss. Good luck to us all. We are going to need it.
GadgetGuy’s take – Australian surveilance is right up there as a Five Eyes member
Sam paints a global picture that has been going on now for over 60 years. But in reality, the internet has been the great enabler over the past 20 years.