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Web Site Launched To Monitor Global Spy Network

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched "Echelon Watch" a website designed to prompt worldwide governmental investigations into the global electronic surveillance system called Echelon. John Howard reports.

The ACLU has focused its eye on the international electronic surveillance system, which includes New Zealand, that eyeballs citizens using global phone, fax or e-mail communications.

"This has gone from X-Files material to clear reality," said ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt. "I think at this point it's fact that it exists," he said.

The ACLU created the site in conjunction with the Electronic Privacy Information Centre and the Omega Foundation of Great Britain which prepared a report on the issue for the European Parliament.

A disturbing aspect of Echelon is that by coordinating across national boundaries, government's can monitor each other's traffic and circumvent laws prohibiting governments from spying on their own citizens.

The latest news is that a patent was issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office in August to the US National Security Agency, who controls Echelon, for voice-recognition technology. The technology is designed to summarise voice communications for further examination.

Steinhardt says, "Echelon operates inside this black box without judicial supervision and without public scrutiny or notice. At this point what the ACLU is asking for is full disclosure of the laws under which Echelon operates - something the NSA has refused to provide, even to the US Congress."

The report to the European Parliament said the United Kingdom used the Echelon system to spy on charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid.

"It's beginning to be taken seriously in Washington and it's certainly being taken seriously in other parts of the world," Steinhardt said.

All except in New Zealand. Last week the Green Party called on the Prime Minister to provide answers about New Zealand's involvement in Echelon but the silence has been deafening. There can be no other reasonable explanation, therefore, that Jenny Shipley and her government is quite content and has no qualms about allowing New Zealand citizens to be officially and deliberately spied upon.

The ACLU website is at www.aclu.org/echelonwatch/index.html

ends

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