Mainstream press reports have wildly exaggerated the potency of the US National Security Agency's (NSA's) famous ECHELON satellite spook network, the Euro Parliament's Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System says in a 4 May working document which will form the basis of a final report.
The 92-page document by Rapporteur Gerhard Schmid and company carefully deflates the myth that ECHELON can intercept virtually all electronic communications around the globe.
"Analysis has revealed that the system cannot be nearly as extensive as some sections of the media have assumed," the report says.
Of course, a decent imagination tempered with common sense could have told them that much in the first place, as we've pointed out numerous times in the past.
Industrial Espionage -- Not
The Committee has also addressed persistent concerns that ECHELON's operators -- the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- have been using it cooperatively to steal trade secrets and other data of economic value from European firms and governments.
This, the Committee assures us, is unlikely.
"The strategic monitoring of international telecommunications can produce useful information for industrial espionage purposes, but only by chance. In fact, sensitive industrial information is primarily to be found in the firms themselves, which means that industrial espionage is carried out primarily by attempting to obtain the information via employees or infiltrators or by breaking into internal computer networks."
"Only where sensitive data is sent outside via cable or radio (satellite) can a communications surveillance system be used for industrial espionage," the report says. And, by using relatively strong encryption, even these inevitable leaks can me minimized, it hastens to point out.
So basically, ECHELON is a paper tiger and those who fear it are being foolish, or too lazy to encrypt their most sensitive data.
You see where this is headed, we hope....
Another big concern for the Committee is the potential for ECHELON to violate the privacy of ordinary citizens. This, the group concludes, needs to be addressed through legislation so that all Europeans can enjoy the same, decent level of privacy protection.
And why should privacy need to be addressed aggressively, you ask? Because, "the further development of a [similar] joint European Union intelligence capacity should be considered necessary and inevitable," the Committee believes.
"The lack of such a system of political control, and therefore of political awareness and responsibility for the process of intelligence collection, would be detrimental to the process of European integration," the report concludes.
So what the Committee is saying, essentially, is that ECHELON is safe and effective; and Europe needs it too, just as soon as the legislative niceties pertaining to privacy can be tweaked enough to prevent mass opposition.
Pretty slick, eh? ®