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GLOBAL INTERNET LIBERTY CAMPAIGN (GILC) ACTIVIST ALERT
6 October 1998
Growing Awareness of Massive US-UK ìEchelonî Spying Sparks Anger
Responding to increasing reports about the existence of a decades old, massive US-UK spying system called Echelon, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 16 September calling for the adoption of ìprotective measures concerning economic information and effective encryptionî to guard against abuse and threats to civil liberties posed by the clandestine intelligence system.
The European Parliamentís decision came after the circulation of a working report entitled ìAn Appraisal of Technologies of Political Control,î that was originally published in December 1997, but was revised and presented to Parliament on 16 September. The report is the first public report by a governmental body that acknowledges the existence of Echelon.
ìWithin Europe, all email, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency, transferring all target information from the European mainland ...to Fort Meade in Maryland...,î the report stated. The report also claims that the Echelon system was first uncovered in the 1970's by a group of researchers in the UK.
The report provides some detail about how the five governments alleged to be involved in the massive spying system have operated it, stating:
ìThe ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system but unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the cold war, ECHELON is designed for primarily non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country. The ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and then siphoning out what is valuable using artificial intelligence aids like Memex. to find key words. Five nations share the results with the US as the senior partner under the UKUSA agreement of 1948, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are very much acting as subordinate information servicers.
The report raises serious concerns about the threats to liberty posed by Echelon, citing to an article published last year in Statewatch, stating: ìIt is the interface of the ECHELON system and its potential development on phone calls combined with the standardisation of tappable communications centres and equipment being sponsored by the EU and the USA which presents a truly global threat over which there are no legal or democratic controls.î
Among the recommendations in the report, it calls for public accountability and safeguards to be enacted to limit surreptitious surveillance conducted by Echelon and states that the European Parliament should reject US proposals calling for access to private messages via the global communications network.
The European Parliament said it will commission a full report into the workings of Echelon this month, Wired News reports.
To learn more about Echelon, see: Somebodyís Listening, NEW STATESMAN , 12 August 1988 <http://jya.com/echelon-dc.htm>; 1998 Nicky Hager, Covert Action Quarterly article on ECHELON: <http://jya.com/echelon.htm>; 1998 European Parliament, STOA report, Assessment of the Technologies of Political Control <http://jya.com/stoa-atpc.htm> Exposing The Global Surveillance System <http://offshorehaven.nu/bbalert/index.html> Eavesdropping on Europe, Niall McKay, Wired Magazine online, 30 September 1998, <http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/15295.html>