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Echelon: Is there any privacy?

Echelon: Is There Privacy The United States Constitutions, Bill Of Rights, guarantees certain freedoms to the American people. Amendment I reads, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Amendment II reads, A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. Amendment IV reads, The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. These amendments are guarantees to American citizens the rights privacy and freedom from persecution by unreasonable searches and seizures. They also protect the privacy of individuals in their homes and communications.

“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 prescribes procedures for requesting judicial authorization for electronic surveillance and physical search of persons engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States on behalf of a foreign power” (Aftergood). On November 18, 2002 FISA gave the green light to a Justice Department bid to broadly expand its powers to spy on U.S. citizens. "We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubberstamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants," said Ann Beeson, litigation director of the Technology and Liberty Program of the American Civil Liberties Union. "As of today," she said, "the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans' homes and offices" (ACLU)

“Strict limitations were placed on the ability of intelligence agencies to collect information about U.S. citizens in the 1970s in the wake of Watergate and other abuses. Rep. Goss, who chairs the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, had requested access to files held by NSA's General Counsel, but the agency rebuffed the request citing "attorney-client privilege." In a report issued as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2000, Goss wrote: "for the first time in the committee's history, an Intelligence Community element of the United States Government asserted a claim of attorney-client privilege as a basis for withholding documents from the committee's review” (EPIC). Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is “our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States” (ACLU). Another group dedicated to the protection of civil liberties is the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “The privacy watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a lawsuit in federal court that aims to force the National Security Agency to release sensitive documents thought to contain evidence of surveillance operations against U.S. citizens. EPIC wants to obtain documents recently denied to Congress by NSA's General Counsel on the grounds of attorney/client privilege” (Verton).

The United States and other countries started using satellites in 1960. These first satellites simply “reflected radio signals back to earth”(Infoplease). Over the years through advancing technology, they became more complex, offering many other uses. Satellites are used for military reconnaissance, taking satellite photos to predict the economic structure of a country (by looking at its crops), cable television, detection of nuclear weapons and explosions, communications and numerous other ventures.

In 1962 Congress passed the Communications Satellite Act (Comsat) “ agencies from seventeen other countries joined Comsat in 1964 forming the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (Intelsat) for the purpose of establishing a global commercial communications network Intelsat now has 143 member agencies (Infoplease). These agencies, all tied together via satellite and microwave signals, have enabled the advancement of technology and communications, but have also made it an easy task for the invasion of privacy, by the Echelon satellite.

The NSA designed and coordinates Echelon, the most powerful eavesdropping satellite in the world. The exact time of Echelon’s conception is not known. The U.S. government has not admitted or denied the existence of Echelon. Though Australian and New Zealand governments have admitted that it exists. The information obtained about Echelon is from investigative journalists and civil liberties activists and former NSA and other intelligence operatives. They have uncovered a number of the system's details in recent years. There are also accusations that the Echelon satellite has been used for economic espionage. A report Interception Capabilities 2000 sparked accusations from the French government that the United States was using ECHELON to give American companies an advantage over rival firms.

Echelon an “automated global interception and relay system is responsible for intercepting satellite based communications” (Dwan). It also has the capability to intercept all phone calls, cell phone calls, e-mails, faxes, telex, radio signals (short-wave, airline and maritime), electronic communications in and outside North American borders, microwave signals and long distance telecom traffic. It is unknown whether Echelon actually targets domestic communications. Also, it is apparently very difficult for Echelon to intercept certain types of transmissions, particularly fiber communications. (Echelon Watch) Its limitations included cable and fiber- optic systems, but most of these systems often have microwave or satellite links somewhere in the loop. Practically all types of communications are being monitored.

The Echelon system is shared with other countries. In 1948 five countries, the United States, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, signed an agreement the UKUSA. This agreement “giving themselves carte blanche to, “geographically divvy up signals intelligence gathering responsibilities with the U.S. as director and main underwriter”(Dwan). “In addition to these countries Norway, Denmark, Germany and Turkey have also signed on as 3rd party participants of the UKUSA agreement and the Echelon network” (Dwan). Echelon is the most powerful intelligence gathering system, which makes the UKUSA the most powerful organization in the world, when it comes to global intelligence.

The Echelon system uses a large network of computers that use a “Dictionary” which searches for keywords and phrases, when these words are recognized; they are flagged and sent to the appropriate intelligence agency. These agencies receive millions of intercepted communications daily. This causes many problems. They do not have the manpower to sort through each and every flagged item they receive. Another problem is the language barrier, and the time it takes to get messages translated. It is unknown how advanced this network actually is and if they may have overcome these problems.

When the Constitution was written in the 1700’s, the authors had no idea of the advancements that could have and have become reality. These great technological advancements have made the world a single organism that can be put under a microscope and dissected at will. Any individual can be targeted, for any reason, and he would be completely unaware. Supporters of the ACLU and privacy experts would like to see spy networks like Echelon held accountable for their actions. As of right now, much is still unknown about the Echelon system, and its exact capabilities. It is unknown who is being monitored and what is being done with the information.

Checks and balances is a part of the Constitution. Checks and balances, keeps the three branches of the government’s power equal. Each branch can limit the power of the others. This way, no one branch becomes too powerful. Each branch “checks” the power of the other branches to make sure that the power is balanced between them. There is no system of checks ands balances placed on Echelon. As far as is publicly known they are free to do as they please, without any hindrances by any government institution. This makes the coordinators of Echelon basically unrestricted in their powers. If they do find information on an American citizen who is involved in some type of illegal behavior what is to stop them from giving this information to another member of the UKUSA, who in turn can give it back to them, which makes this information useful that they may now seek “legally” through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act the right to investigate this citizen. With the new FISA ruling and the new Homeland Security act, agencies of the U.S. government will now have the ability to use their expanded powers to get around the 4th amendment.

“On November 25, 2002, President Bush signed the "Homeland Security Act of 2002" into law. The Act restructures and strengthens the executive branch of the Federal Government to better meet the threat to our homeland posed by terrorism. In establishing a new Department of Homeland Security, the Act for the first time creates a Federal department whose primary mission will be to help prevent, protect against, and respond to acts of terrorism on our soil” (Department of Homeland Security).“Privacy experts warn that the urge to combat terrorism could lead to the erosion of personal liberties” (Broersma). In trying to track down terrorist actions and movements the unrestricted Echelon system will in all probability be spying on its own citizens. Even if they do not take action against these people now, they will be compiling this all this information, maybe for future use. The FBI files that were kept on Martin Luther King Jr. and other famous people show the way our government has acted in the past.

“Congress must conduct hearings to ensure that Echelon wiretapping does not circumvent any requirement in federal law that the government obtains a warrant from a court before it eavesdrops on a conversation to, from or within the United States. Congress should also insist that the government publicly release the original documents related to the legal standards under which Echelon operates” (ACLU).

The television news program “60 Minutes” aired a report on 2/27/2000 about a woman who was singled out by Echelon. Her name and telephone number went into the Echelon database as a possible terrorist because she told a friend on the phone that her son “bombed” in a school play. Just think of how many times you as an American citizen, personally have used “key words” in simple telephone conversations. Could you be on a special list as a suspected terrorist?

“Our personal and business information is being digitized through an ever-expanding number of computer networks in formats that allow data to be linked, transferred, shared and sold, usually without our knowledge or consent. The same technological advances that have brought enormous benefits to humankind also make us more vulnerable than ever before to unwanted snooping”(ACLU). With all this newly acquired technology, who knows, there may be files on every U.S. citizen. These files can start from birth, kindergarten, high school, immunization records or when first acquiring a social security card. It is possible to track all the income by an individual, through their social security number and with this number get all the financial records of that individual. It is also possible to track, with the new IO cable system, all programs watched and purchases made (through the cable box by inserting credit card) by a household. All communications can be intercepted, listened to or read, made possible by Echelon.