The ECHELON system is not designed to eavesdrop on a particular individual’s e-mail or fax link. Rather, the system works by indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. A chain of secret interception facilities has been established around the world to tap into all the major components of the international telecommunications networks. Some monitor communications satellites, others land-based communications networks, and others radio communications. ECHELON links together all these facilities, providing the US and its allies with the ability to intercept a large proportion of the communications on the planet.
The ECHELON system became well known following publication of the previous STOA report. Since then, new evidence shows that ECHELON has existed since the 1970s, and was greatly enlarged between 1975 and 1995.
The ECHELON system is fairly simple in design: position intercept stations all over the world to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications traffic, and then process this information through the massive computer capabilities of the NSA, including advanced voice recognition and optical character recognition (OCR) programs, and look for code words or phrases (known as the ECHELON Dictionary) that will prompt the computers to flag the message for recording and transcribing for future analysis.
Previous inquiries by the European Parliament have resulted in reports detailing the existence of a surveillance system known as ECHELON, which is led by the NSA in conjunction with its counterpart agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. According to the reports, ECHELON has communications receiving stations all over the world and attempts to capture all satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic communications worldwide, including communications to and from North America. Computers then sort through conversations, faxes and emails searching for keywords and other triggers. Communications that include triggers chosen by the intelligence agencies are transcribed and forwarded for further investigation.
Before the PATRIOT Act, but VERY likely to include Echelon statistics:
Echelon is perhaps the most powerful intelligence gathering organization in the world. Several credible reports suggest that this global electronic communications surveillance system presents an extreme threat to the privacy of people all over the world. According to these reports, ECHELON attempts to capture staggering volumes of satellite, microwave, cellular and fiber-optic traffic, including communications to and from North America. This vast quantity of voice and data communications are then processed through sophisticated filtering technologies.
This massive surveillance system apparently operates with little oversight. Moreover, the agencies that purportedly run ECHELON have provided few details as to the legal guidelines for the project. Because of this, there is no way of knowing if ECHELON is being used illegally to spy on private citizens.
Echelon is a system used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept and process international communications passing via communications satellites. It is one part of a global surveillance systems that is now over 50 years old. Other parts of the same system intercept messages from the Internet, from undersea cables, from radio transmissions, from secret equipment installed inside embassies, or use orbiting satellites to monitor signals anywhere on the earth’s surface.
So the storyboard, of the rest of the internet, ends 11 May 2001. The EUs publicized states-side investigation into its capabilities, ended when the Bush Administration refused the topic: