Subj: [Fwd: Government Reading E-Mail]
The Government Is Reading Your E-mail
With the Echelon program, the U.S. and its allies are collaborating to
monitor the Internet
In the past month a series of announcements from the governments of
Australia, the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the U.S., among
others, has brought to light the existence of a massive international
electronic surveillance network known as "Echelon." Its existence was
officially confirmed by the Australian intelligence agency back on May 23. In
a nutshell, Echelon is a joint project undertaken by the U.S. and its allies
to monitor satellite transmissions, phone calls and the Internet.
How does it work? The Echelon partner nations have deployed "sniffer"
programs that monitor the data traffic at six critical junctions on the
Internet, vacuuming in as much information as they can and submitting it to
the "Dictionary," a series of programs dedicated to finding red flag phrases
-- for example, conversations about assassinating public figures. The results
are then sorted and sent to the appropriate intelligence branch of the
appropriate nation. As a result, as much as 90 percent of all traffic on the
Net is being scanned by the NSA and other espionage organizations, just as
thoroughly as if they were rummaging in your mailbox with a letter opener.
In the U.S. the agency responsible for maintaining Echelon is the National
Security Agency (NSA), which is charged with keeping an eye on nations deemed
dangerous to U.S. interests. Thanks to its partners in Echelon, NSA watchdogs
report, the agency can avoid actually engaging in domestic spying per se by
asking British intelligence to do it for them, and vice versa.
There's been very little media coverage of Echelon in the U.S., aside from a
few bulletins on the Web and a shallow report from Business Week. "They
missed out on a lot," said John Young, who hosts the web site Cryptome, a
clearing house for news, government reports and discussions of cryptography
and spying. Across the Atlantic, however, the revelation of Echelon has set
the Continent on edge, with France and Germany, among other nations, claiming
that the Echelon countries are committing industrial espionage by handing
over the information they collect to their companies, which are in turn using
it to steal contracts from such firms as Airbus and Thomson S. A.. The
intelligence agencies of France and Germany have promised that investigations
will be forthcoming, and two weeks ago Sweden announced that it, too, will
try to get to the bottom of this.
But what's a paranoid Netizen to do in the meantime? Unfortunately, not much.
"The Internet is almost perfect for this," says Young. "The NSA couldn't have
created a more convenient system. The Internet is widely accessible and
easily searchable. It's not too hard to catalog at all for the NSA. You can
store data and search it later. They have vastly more resources than we do."
Widespread encryption of e-mail and regular data traffic could jam up
Echelon's efforts, says British crypto expert Brian Gladman, but most people
simply won't bother. "This won't happen," wrote Gladman, "not because it
cannot be done, but rather because most users prefer functionality over
security and, given the chance to put processor and software improvements
into one or the other, the market will, for the present at least, continue to
be driven by functionality."
That's probably what Echelon is counting on.
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