- The European Parliament has swept aside
concerns about alleged surveillance and spying activities conducted in
the region by the US government, a representative for Europe's Green Party
said Monday. Specifically, the EU allegedly scuttled parliamentary debate
late last month concerning the Echelon surveillance system. Echelon is
a near-mythical intelligence network operated in part by the National Security
- "The whole discussion was completely
brushed over," Green Party member of European Parliament Patricia
- The US government has refused even to
acknowledge Echelon's existence. But since 1988, investigative journalists
and privacy watchdogs have uncovered details of a secret, powerful system
that can allegedly intercept any and all communications within Europe.
- According to scores of reports online
and in newspapers, Echelon can intercept, record, and translate any electronic
communication -- telephone, data, cellular, fax, email, telex -- sent anywhere
in the world.
- The alleged system has only recently
come under the scrutiny of the European Parliament, which has grown concerned
about EU government and private sector secrets falling into US hands.
- The debate fizzled mysteriously, said
McKenna, who suggested that the Parliament is reluctant to probe the matter
fully for fear of jeopardizing relations between the EU and the United
- "Basically they didn't want to rock
the boat," she said.
- Furthermore, she said the debate was
held two days ahead of schedule, hindering preparations for the discussion
by European Members of Parliament.
- While the NSA has never officially recognized
Echelon's existence, it has been the subject of heated debates in Europe
following a preliminary report by the Scientific and Technical Options
Assessment, a committee advising the parliament on technical matters.
- On 19 September, the Parliament debated
both the EU's relationship with the United States and the existence and
uses of Echelon.
- The Green Party believes the resolution
to defer its decision on Echelon, pending further investigation, was influenced
by pressure from the US government, which has tried to keep the system
- Glyn Ford, a member of the European Parliament
for the British Labor Party and a director of STOA, missed the debate because
of the schedule change but does not share the Green Party's view.
- "There is not enough information
on Echelon, beyond its existence, to debate the matter fully," said
- According to Ford, the Omega Foundation,
a British human rights organization, compiled the first report on Echelon
for the Parliament committee.
- "It is very likely that Omega will
be commissioned again," Ford said. "But this time I believe the
EU will require direct input from the NSA."
- Simon Davies, the director of the privacy
watchdog group Privacy International sees the debate as a major civil rights
- "It's unheard of for a parliament
to openly debate national security issues," said Davies. "This
debate fires a warning shot across the bows of the NSA."
- Echelon is said to be principally operated
by the National Security Agency and its UK equivalent, the Government Communications
Headquarters. It reportedly also relies on cooperation with other intelligence
agencies in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
- "These spy systems were seen as
a necessary part of international security during the cold war," said
Ford. "But there is no military reason for spying on Russia now unless
they (NSA) want to listen to the sound of the proto-capitalist economy