Montréal, le 17 avril 1999
Numéro 35
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          Some time ago (see BIG BROTHER HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG TIME, le QL, no 20), I wrote about the presence of a surveillance system called Echelon. It will be recalled that this is a system designed to snoop on telephone conversations, Internet activities, faxes and e-mails which was originally set up secretly in 1948 by the United States of America and its friends in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Canada.
          This still secret agreement provides for the US National Security Agency to capture all microwave, cellular, fibre-optic and satellite traffic from around the world. It is then processed through some huge computers possessing voice and optical character recognition capabilities and which are programmed to look or listen for key words or phrases. I mentioned also that in 1995 the European Union states signed a memorandum of understanding (still classified) to set up a new international telephone tapping network. They did not mention that the initiative to do this apparently came from the US, at least according to a New York Times report in 1998. 
          Recently, the 7th Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference was held in Washington D.C. and in an interesting move Bob Barr, a Republican representative from Georgia, a speaker at the conference, called upon the US Congress to hold hearings to « examine the possibility that the greater part of our country's – and world's – population is being watched by the global “Echelon” network, as well as other spying systems ». Barr said that while Congress may eventually hold hearings on the issue, « the only way to get members in both houses to take notice of – and take a stand against – Echelon and other threats to personal freedoms is to bombard them with phone calls, faxes, e-mails, postcards, letters, you name it ». 
Phone home, get snooped on  
          Many international speakers spoke of the threat to freedom of privacy in our daily lives and communications not only through the Echelon spy network, but also through the proposed ENFOPOL system. ENFOPOL is the name for the FBI / European Union-led initiative to conduct surveillance of phone conversations and Internet access. A document from Europol, the European police agency, as reported by the online-news service Telepolis, said that satellite communications companies and Internet Service Providers were to be obliged to provide law-enforcement authorities with real-time – that is, while you're speaking, real time – access to phone calls, e-mail, and other communications passing through the system. No court authorization is required, the Euro-cops can listen to every phone call you make to your mother, read each e-mail to your girl or boy friend and read your faxed sales report back to Head Office.  
          ENFOPOL, another high tech snooping plan was apparently approved by the European Council of Ministers without ever being debated by the European Parliament or the individual parliaments of the Union's member countries. This means that a small group of European bureaucrats met with a similar group of US bureaucrats and agreed to redesign the world's communications system so that they can read through everybody's messages at will. Some may think that the US Constitution protects will shield American conversations? However, the US Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to an Internet server in Germany or a satellite-relay station in Italy or Spain. In Austria, the groundwork for allowing ENFOPOL to prosper has already been given conditional approval in a law that allows wiretapping without court orders.  
          European telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers aren't exactly enraptured by acquiring sudden eavesdropper status. British Internet Service Providers, in particular, are threatening to revolt if the listeners and watchers don't at least pick up the cost of the system. They also complain that the requirements are technically impossible, and even if the system is implemented its aims could be got around by the use of readily available encryption software. 
          Therefore, anyone planning to keep their messages from prying eyes should install encryption sooner rather than later. At least one British Internet Service Provider has reported that it has already met the bureaucrat's demands for access. That means that some garlic chewing gendarme could be looking over your virtual shoulder the next time you connect to a European site. 
Big Brother is listening to you 
          Most of the participants fulminated about the possibility that communications all over the world could now be intercepted very easily. A representative of England's Omega Foundation said that these networks are not simply being used to halt criminal activity, but to keep watch on groups such as Amnesty International and to look over the shoulder of business deals. He was quoted as saying that, « It's a transatlantic agenda for making the telephone system transparent. » The same representative added that, while the former European Commissioner, Martin Bangemann, had denied any knowledge of Echelon, the European Parliament is expected to receive and publish a report from inside the European Commission on the state of the Echelon Network in less than a month. 
          Representative Barr said many members in Congress will need to be prodded into addressing the illegal use of wiretapping in the name of national security because the issue doesn't make headlines and, « It's going to take hitting these issues any way you can, over and over and over again... so they cannot be ignored, It will require even more than legislation... it will require oversight. » 
          The politician also believes that those who would increase the FBI's wiretapping capabilities will try to introduce partisan divisions into Congress to reduce the effectiveness of those wishing to preserve personal freedoms. A US Justice Department spokesman said that the US does not conduct surveillance activities for no reason, and expressed doubt that a huge majority of phone calls all over the world are being tapped. « I don't know who you would find to process that information, » he said. « We do indict people for illegal wiretapping. » He did add, however, that increasing globalization of information makes the job of law enforcement more difficult because it « still recognizes borders ». He claimed that approximately 1 000 wiretaps are conducted each year in the USA at the combined federal, state and local levels. That is a number which many among us may have some difficulty believing. 
          The clear message which came out of  this year's Washington conference had a familiar Orwellian sound.  Civil rights must be strengthened because digital technology has enhanced the focus of that « big eye in the sky ». 
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