EU releases Echelon spying report

It exists and the UK has a lot of explaining to do

The report by the European Union into the Echelon spying network, released yesterday, has concluded that not only does the network exist but that it can prove its existence. It also calls on the UK to pull out of the system - jointly run by the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia - to prove its commitment to the EU.

The huge 142-page report (with another 54 pages in annexes) is available here, but make sure you put enough paper in the printer first.

The report criticises the UK for its part in Echelon and asks it to explain itself. It also calls for a new treaty to be drawn up which the US, Australia and New Zealand are forced to sign. The treaty basically says no one is going to do anything naughty such as industrial espionage.

The report also recommends that organisations encrypt emails as a matter of course and hopes that encryption will become the norm. It encourages the adoption and enhancement of open-source software for the job.

We haven't had time to go through it all yet, but the basic aspects of it are as follows:

  • Why the committee was set up - because Duncan Campbell told them what the US, UK etc was up to, namely spying on everything the EU did
  • What is espionage, and such stuff
  • What you need to set up such a spying network (includes details of other EU countries' inferior spying systems)
  • Clues to Echelon's existence (this is quite interesting)
  • What information Echelon can be expected to get and where its listening posts are
  • Are they other systems like Echelon in existence? France - theoretically; Russia - theoretically; others - no.
  • Whether Echelon is completely legal - No, it's not
  • What everyone can do against such a spying network - use your noddle and encrypt your emails


The main recommendations made in the report are:

  • A body should be set up to ensure that the rights of European nations are not compromised
  • That the USA signs up to an agreement not to overstep the boundaries of spying
  • That all EU member states review their own spying laws and repeal any that don't fit in with human rights legislation
  • That all EU countries promise not to engage in industrial espionage and that the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand sign up to it
  • That the UK explain its role in Echelon
  • That the UK and Germany make the US sign up to the new treaty as a pre-condition of installing any more US spying equipment on its territory
  • That companies and individuals use encryption software as a matter of course for sensitive information and that the EU supports "user-friendly open-source encryption software".
  • The EU invests in the creation of new technologies for encryption and decryption
  • That EU members talk to each other more regarding telecoms surveillance and an international congress be held to discuss such matters


While the report doesn't hold back, it's all a matter of politics how seriously the recommendations are taken and how much force is put behind them. There is no way in hell that the UK is going to rescind its relationship with the US, or get it to sign up to an EU-created treaty. However, the report may be used to embarrass the UK. Especially since other countries, in particular France, are really annoyed that their systems aren't as good.

What the report has done is raised awareness of the problem and by strongly encouraging the use and investment in encryption software, it is liable to make Echelon's job a thousand times harder.

More on all this later. ®

Related Links

A link to the report
News of the Echelon report
European Parliament Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System
Echelon FAQ

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