Privacy issues: ECHELON and the UKUSA agreement enable leading world governments to intercept the world's communications. A report discussing how and why they get away with it.

Essay by TullyUniversity, Bachelor'sA, April 2002

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1. Introduction

Since 1948 Australia has been part of a secret agreement called UKUSA. Under this agreement Australia has collaborated with America, England, New Zealand and Canada to spy on the communications of the rest of the world, sharing the resources and the results amongst themselves. The espionage network which the UKUSA countries use is called ECHELON; it provides almost total coverage on all forms of communication. Although it has been in place since the 1970's, ECHELON was not uncovered until 1996 when Nicky Hager, a journalist from New Zealand, published Secret Power, a book which gave details about ECHELON and New Zealand's role in the system.

Although theoretically an individual's right to privacy is protected by international treaties, the five governments of the UKUSA agreement can legally spy on every phone call, email and fax we make and send.

People may be aware that they are watched by closed circuit television in public places, or that their use of the internet is monitored and their transactions recorded in databases.

Because of the secrecy surrounding UKUSA and ECHELON however, most people are oblivious to the extent of government surveillance on all forms of communication.

2. Defining the Problem

Under the guise of catching terrorists, drug and arms dealers, governments engage in espionage. In reality much of the intelligence gathered is economic intelligence. While people may feel that the aims of law enforcement are worthy enough to warrant the invasion of privacy, is this invasion equally justifiable when the aim is economic espionage?

This report will look briefly at the issue of communications intelligence; the main focus of the report however, will be the UKUSA agreement and the ECHELON system. Based on an investigation of these issues the report will discuss whether the privacy laws which exist adequately safeguard our...