European Parliament Delays Decision on Echelon

BRUSSELS (03/30/2000) - The European Parliament decided today to put off until April 6 a decision on whether to set up a special Committee of Inquiry into allegations that Echelon, the U.S.-backed satellite surveillance system, is spying on European industry.

Widely expected to take the decision today, the European Parliament delayed a final vote following a debate this morning during which European Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen explained that he had received written assurances from the U.S. Department of State that Echelon had never been involved in industrial espionage.

"Further, the letter states that the United States government and the intelligence community do not collect proprietary commercial, technical or financial information for the benefit of private firms," according to Liikanen.

Echelon is a network of supercomputers and satellites run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) located in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Set up during the Cold War, Echelon now reportedly focuses on fighting terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking. The system is, however, said to be capable of eavesdropping on all forms of electronic communications. [See "Is the U.S. Stealing EU Industrial Secrets?," March 24.]

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