When we review a VPN, we make sure to disclose where the VPN company resides. This confuses some people. But the best VPNs are always based in regions that aren't subject to intense international scrutiny. For example, a VPN based in the United States simply isn't as good as one based in Switzerland.
This is because the United States participates in an organized international data sharing group. And Switzerland does not. This means it's easier for government surveillance to occur with a VPN based in a country that's subject to legal scrutiny.
VPN jurisdictions matter. There are three main VPN jurisdictions worth discussing.
- Five Eyes Alliance
- Nine Eyes Alliance
- Fourteen Eyes Alliance
Nations that participate in any of these three alliances are signed on to coordinated intelligence-sharing agendas.
If a country participates in an alliance, they coordinate with technology companies and ISPs to help them surveil citizens. It's as simple as that. This may mean they get access to your web browsing behaviors, locations, text messages, even phone calls.
A VPN that operates out of one of these countries may be forced to surveil customers.
The Five Eyes Alliance
The Five Eyes is the smallest alliance, but its also the most important and extends as a base for other alliances. The participating country list consist of the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.
This agreement began during World War 1 when it consisted of just the US and UK.
The idea of an alliance, including Five Eyes, is to help participating nations coordinate citizen surveillance efforts. The Edward Snowden leak is probably the most popular citizen surveillance exposure of all time. It showed that the Five Eyes alliance allows and encourages these participating nations to share citizens' private data.
Because there is an alliance, each country can persuade, by way of leverage, that another country disclose private information on a citizen.
ECHELON Surveillance System
The ECHELON Surveillance system is a big reason why the Five-Eyes Alliance is the most powerful. Via this technology, all participating nations are able to spy on massive scales through spying stations.
Such stations are able to listen in on phone calls or track computer activity and decipher trigger words. The US claims it does not use it, but that doesn't seem to be the case given now what we know via the Snowden files.
The Nine-Eyes Alliance
The Nine-Eyes Alliance is the same countries as Five-Eyes, but also includes Denmark, France, Norway, and The Netherlands. Again, due to Snowden's controversial leak, the Nine-Eyes Alliance is now well-known worldwide as a formidable spying alliance.
The Five-Eyes remains the most powerful spy alliance in terms of technology, but Nine-Eyes remains on track to continue it's evolution in such nefarious areas.
The Fourteen Eyes Alliance
All the member of Nine-Eyes Alliance, plus Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, and Germany. It officially is titled SIGINT Seniors of Europe (SSEURD). This alliance meets annually to discuss ways to enhance it's citizen surveillance programs.
The European Union includes 27 countries. While it's not devised for the sole purpose of sharing citizens' private data, it is a political organization which also surveils.
Countries inside the EU can and will share citizens data, particularly for the sake of criminal or civil litigations.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization
Russia, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan.
Clearly, many if not all of these countries deeply believe, through their political infrastructure, in spying on citizens. This is an anti-terrorism pact, but its safe to assume that sharing of all types of international data occurs.
How Important Is VPN Jurisdiction?
Where a VPN is incorporated binds it to a specific countries legal system. The reason alliances and pacts are so important is that it shows you don't have to be in a specific country to create legal issues. If one country readily shares with another, all countries in an alliance are relevant to your concerns.
But just because a VPN is incorporated outside of an alliance or highly-censored country doesn't meant he server you are using is. With most VPNs, you choose a server/country. If you choose on in France, French officials could seize that server. This is why it's so important that a VPN have a strict no-logging policy. Also, because the VPN isn't incorporated in France and not in a country that France has an alliance with, it can't likely compel the VPN to work with law enforcement.
This is why a VPN's jurisdiction is so incredibly important.