The Government Is Reading Your E-mail

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In the past month a series of announcements from the governments of Australia, the U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the U.S., among others, has brought to light the existence of a massive international electronic surveillance network known as "Echelon." Its existence was officially confirmed by the Australian intelligence agency back on May 23. In a nutshell, Echelon is a joint project undertaken by the U.S. and its allies to monitor satellite transmissions, phone calls and the Internet.

How does it work? The Echelon partner nations have deployed "sniffer" programs that monitor the data traffic at six critical junctions on the Internet, vacuuming in as much information as they can and submitting it to the "Dictionary," a series of programs dedicated to finding red flag phrases -- for example, conversations about assassinating public figures. The results are then sorted and sent to the appropriate intelligence branch of the appropriate nation. As a result, as much as 90 percent of all traffic on the Net is being scanned by the NSA and other espionage organizations, just as thoroughly as if they were rummaging in your mailbox with a letter opener. MORE >>