An Ignored Pre-9/11 Warning on Spying

Arjen Kamphuis

In the first 21 months of the Twenty-first Century, the dot-com stock bubble burst and then the 9/11 attacks propelled the United States into the “global war on terror.” Yet, between those two events a largely forgotten report to the European Parliament was issued on July 11, 2001, describing the scale and impact of electronic espionage in Europe by the U.S. and its “Echelon” partners (Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand).

Speculation about this surveillance network had existed for years but it wasn’t until 1999 when a journalist published a report on the topic that the danger began to be taken seriously. That gave rise to the parliamentary report which — besides offering a detailed analysis of the problem — urged European governments to inform their citizens about Echelon and provided concrete examples of policies that Europe could take to significantly limit foreign intelligence spying.

Under the heading, “Measures to encourage self-protection by citizens and enterprises,” the report suggested improved data security and confidentiality for communications by EU citizens. The document also recommended “practical assistance in designing and implementing comprehensive protection measures, including the security of information technology.”

Europe was urged to “take appropriate measures to promote, develop and manufacture European encryption technology and software and, above all, to support projects aimed at developing user encryption technology, which are open-source.” The report recommended software projects whose source text is published, thereby guaranteeing that the software has no “back doors” built in so intelligence services can steal information.

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