BRUSSELS (03/24/2000) - Allegations that the U.S.-backed Echelon satellite information system is stealing European industrial secrets are expected to lead next week to the creation of a special committee of inquiry by the European Parliament (EP), Per Haugaard, spokesman for Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen, told IDG News Service today.
The decision is expected to be taken during a plenary session of the EP in Brussels on March 30 when both the European Commission and representatives from the governments of the 15 member states will make their views on Echelon known.
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. and other English-speaking countries. Echelon, set up as a means to fight terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking, is capable of eavesdropping on all forms of electronic communications. The U.S. and the U.K. governments deny the allegations.
Earlier this month on March 7 in Washington D.C., James Woolsey, former chief of the CIA, told a press conference that Echelon had listened in on certain companies but only to determine the extent of the bribery involved in certain transactions. He added however that most European technology "just isn't worth our stealing," according to numerous reports on the press conference.
The EP's concerns are based on a research report carried out by Duncan Campbell, an investigative journalist, at the request of the Parliament.
During an initial hearing in February, Campbell told the EP's Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights that "it has been established beyond any doubt," that the system is used for industrial espionage, according to published reports of the hearing. Campbell says that every half hour, one million messages are intercepted and filtered by Echelon, and that this represents the "last gray area where the State acts beyond the control of the law."