European panel eyes Echelon espionage
- By Elizabeth De Bony, IDG News Service
- Jul 07, 2000
The European Parliament Wednesday approved creation of a special temporary
committee to investigate allegations that the U.S.-backed Echelon satellite
information system is stealing European industrial secrets. Echelon is a
network of supercomputers and satellites run by the U.S. National Security
Agency with bases in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia
and New Zealand. It is capable of eavesdropping on electronic communications
in the form of faxes, telephone calls and e-mail.
The U.S. and U.K. governments have repeatedly denied that the system
is used for industrial espionage, saying that it was set up to fight terrorism,
money laundering and drug trafficking.
The system has particularly irritated the French, who Tuesday saw Jean-Pierre
Dintilhac, a French state prosecutor, launch a preliminary judicial investigation
to determine whether Echelon is compatible with French law.
Whether the rights and privacy of European citizens are being properly
protected from government intrusion by this system is one of the questions
facing the 36-member committee set up by the European Parliament. As part
of its year-long mandate, it will also consider whether encryption provides
adequate protection to guarantee privacy and how to make European Union
institutions better aware of the risks posed by such information-gathering
The committee will have no formal powers, At the end of its investigation,
it will issue recommendations for follow-up political or legislative initiatives.
These actions could, for example, involve the creation of a full-blown committee