Re: ECHELON: Deaf Ears - a different opinion

From jjf <>
Date Fri, 4 Aug 2000 11:58:27 +0100

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To me this article provides more than enough grounds for serious concern over Echelon. The research detailed at the bottom of the article confirms what many have speculated about Echelon's technical capabilties. The fact that Echelon is hardly used to analyse EVERY bit of information is no fantastic new revelation and doesn't detract from its potential dangers in any way. So, Echelon is not a fully automated Big Brother capable of intercepting all communications simultaneously, understanding it all and reacting in an appropriate fashion. What a surprise. What it can do is built up huge databses of information on certain topics and include not only freely available material but also private and personal material. It can be used against a specific target, be it another country, a company (speak, for industrial espionage) or an individual. The film "enemy of the state" demonstrates (in no unrealistic way, I believe) how today's surveillance technology can be used to completely observe anybody.

The point of "Echelon paranoia" isn't to claim that Echelon observes every detail of everybody's lives but to illustrate the *potential* it has for being used to find out everything about us. When the atomic bomb was invented people didn't say "hey, who is going to use it anyway?" The United States went crazy about the idea that Saddam Husseyn might have enough weapon grade plutonium to build the Bomb. But he would hardly have had enough to seriously threaten the whole western world anyway; did that make it any less dangerous that he might have the Bomb? Tomorrow's wars will be electronic. They will take place in cyberspace and the weapons will be information. They may be high level (all out attacks against a nation's power supply) or low level (constant collection of information and categorising of people according to this information into desirable and non-desirable (politicallly, economically, medically, genetically etc.)). The thought that one small group in the world holds the key to all this information is scary. There is certainly no harm in publicising the fact. Maybe a proper discussion about the moral implications of such potential total surveillance on our lives would start. Why should *anybody* have the power to do that? What does that say about the world we live in and the people who control most of what is going on?

Echelon paranoia can undoubtedly go too far. There is a line in a song by Bruce Cockburn (terrible name, I know) in which he says he was "thinking about the secret police" when he realised that this was exactly what secret police where there for: to stop you from thinking about other things. We shouldn't stop thinking about other things; we shouldn't get carried away by Echelon paranoia; but when a system like Echelon has even been used to eavesdrop on such kosher organisations as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, then we should think long and hard about the implications of Echelon for our lives as activists, if activists we are.


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