Association for Progressive Communications Europe support report by the European Parliament on Echelon

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PRESS RELEASE, May 31, 2001


LONDON, UK -- The Association for Progressive Communications Europe Internet Rights Initiative wholeheartedly welcomes the Draft Report of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Echelon[1]. We congratulate the Committee and particularly its Rapporteur, Gerhard Schmid on the excellent job they have done.

The Report:

1) Firmly establishes that Echelon exists. This represents a major triumph for campaigners like Duncan Campbell[2] and Nicky Hager, who have untiringly sought to expose Echelon to the world, whilst governments have tried to deny its existence.

2) Questions the compatibility of Echelon with existing European Union law and, in particular, whether the United Kingdom's involvement in Echelon is compatible with its membership of the European Union (EU). At the Echelon Committee meeting on Tuesday, a representative of the Swedish EU Presidency conceded that, as a result of the Report, the European Council might have to take action against the UK government.

3) Expresses the belief that Echelon is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy as defined under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights[3] and Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU[4]. At the same time, the Report calls for these Articles to be "brought in line with modern communication and interception methods".

4) Calls for "a common level of protection against intelligence operations based on the highest level which exists in any member state". The Committee is particularly critical of the situation in the UK and some other member states where there is no parliamentary oversight of surveillance. It calls for national parliaments to set up "specific, formally structured monitoring committees responsible for supervising and scrutinising the activities of the intelligence services."

5) Calls for the development and promotion of European "user-friendly open-source encryption software". The Report says it wants "encryption to become the norm".

6) Calls for the European Parliament to hold an international congress for NGOs from Europe, the USA and other countries to provide a forum on the protection of privacy against telecommunications surveillance.

APC Europe strongly supports the Committee on all these points. Its findings are a powerful rebuff to attempts by the UK Home Office, apparently endorsed by EuroISPA (the European Internet Service Providers' Association) at its recent conference "Future Trends in Internet Security"[5], to present the UK as a model to be emulated by
the rest of Europe. On the contrary, although the remit of the Echelon Committee only covered military interception of communications and not police operations, the Committee's findings make clear that they regard the surveillance situation as a whole in the UK as incompatible with proper democratic standards. Many members of the Committee are calling for further investigations to cover police surveillance across the EU.

APC has itself worked to expose Echelon. Last year we organised, through our member in Japan, JCA-NET, a series of presentations on Echelon given by Duncan Campbell, including at the Japanese Parliament (Diet) and the
Japanese Bar Association. Following this, a representative of APC was invited to give a presentation on Echelon at the People's Forum in South Korea, an important forum in a new dialogue between Asia and Europe, that took place in parallel with last year's Asia-Europe meeting of prominent Asian and EU governments (ASEM 2000).

APC particularly welcomes the recognition by the Echelon Committee that the Internet and other modern forms of communication create whole new areas where it is necessary to ensure human rights in line with rights ensured for other traditional forms of communication, such as the printed word. This view was forcibly put to the Committee at its Tuesday meeting by Finnish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Reino Paasilinna. It was vital for protecting democracy that we clearly define privacy rights in the new communications technologies, he maintained, or we would have a situation where every move individuals made would be monitored. He considered this would be equivalent to reading our thoughts. He felt sure that criminals would undoubtedly find ways of avoiding such surveillance and that in the meantime it was ordinary citizens that needed protection.

The work of the APC Europe Internet Rights Initiative[6] is based on the issues raised by Paasilinna and the Echelon Committee over defining human rights in the new communications media, particularly the Internet. Unless this is done, the Internet, which holds such enormous potential for increasing democracy could be transformed into the highly monitored and state-controlled nightmare scenario that Paasalinna outlined.

APC believes it is necessary to incorporate specific rights of privacy, as well as access, freedom of expression and rights awareness regarding the Internet and other new information technologies into the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. At the same time, we strongly support the European Trade Union Committee and the Platform of Social NGOs in calling for the Charter to be made legally binding in all EU Member states. As a contribution to this critical debate, APC has developed an Internet Rights Charter[7] outlining seven major Internet Rights themes and welcomes comment and discussion on any aspect of the charter.

The Echelon Committee has made an excellent start in the work of defining the privacy rights of EU citizens in the new communications technologies. We look forward to its final report and hope that it will receive the full support of the European Parliament as a whole.



The Echelon system (reportedly run by the United States in cooperation with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) was set up at the beginning of the Cold War for intelligence gathering and has developed into a network of intercept stations around the world. Its primary purpose, according to the Draft Report of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Echelon, is to intercept private and commercial communications, not military intelligence. The committee concludes that "the existence of a global system for intercepting communications . . .
is no longer in doubt." The report of the Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System is available at:


APC (founded 1990) was the first globally interconnected NGO network of groups working for peace, human rights, development and protection of the environment. Though trivial from today's perspective, offering e-mail and computer conferencing services to civil society in the late 1980s and early 1990s marked a huge leap into the future. There was no better or more cost-effective way at the time for activists to get their messages out to the world.

Now, 10 years later, APC is still going strong and still pioneering new ways for civil society to use the Internet strategically. Members and partners across the world continue to work together online, now moving into new areas like freedom of expression on the Internet, and the role of information and communication technology in developing countries. Our network of members and partners spans the globe, with presence in Western, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and North America.
APC Internet Rights:


Karen Banks
APC European Civil Society Internet Rights Initiative Project Manager
4th Floor
74-77 White Lion Street
London N1 9PF
Tel: +44 207 713 1941
Fax: +44 207 837 5551

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