Jam Echelon Day dubbed unpatriotic

US activitists have conducted an exercise to publicly "out" an international electronic eavesdropping system operated by countries including Australia.

The operation was organised by Cyberwar, an online news site with a strong civil libertarian tinge, to raise public awareness of the secret Echelon system.

Echelon is multi-government electronic intelligence gathering system, which eavesdrops on non-encrypted international e-mail, telex, fax and phone traffic.

Monday, dubbed Jam Echelon Day, saw the culmination of a co-ordinated effort to drive traffic to 30 mirror sites which held an astonishing amount of information on Echelon in seven languages.

The content was aggregated from years of probes into the super-secret system by investigative journalists plus a highly-critical look at Echelon recently published by the European Parliament.

Principal intelligence body behind Echelon is reportedly the US National Security Agency; however it is said to be supported by the Governments of Australia, UK, New Zealand and Canada.

Official sensitivity over Echelon is such that no Australian Government minister has ever publicly discussed this country's involvement with the super-secret system.

The upsurge of feeling following the September attack in New York fed criticism of Jam Echelon Day plans as potentially playing into the hands of cyberterrorists.

However Cyberwar spokesman Michael Teetering said the post-attack upsurge of calls for increased government surveillance of online activities made JED more necessary, not less.

All the lessons of history argue against adopting blind trust in the faith and good will of governments, Teetering said.

A 1999 anti-Echelon campaign was based on the use of e-mail spam to clog Echelon's software filters.

That approach was abandoned as frivolous and counterproductive this time around in favour of a campaign to educate and awaken public awareness of the system.

Powered by a chain of secret interception facilities in the five member countries, Echelon reportedly sifts through communications of individuals, corporations and governments for information of political, military or economic value.

Among the issues surrounding Echelon is how the information is shared and whether data gathered about Australian commercial interests could find its way to US competitors.

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Pete Young

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