What is ECHELON?
ECHELON is an interception and relay system developed to monitor electronic communication between countries of the world. It is a global system formed by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. Functions of this system are led by the US National Security Agency, with support from various intelligence agencies from the other member countries.
ECHELON was rumored to be formed as early as 1947 by the UK and the US governments after World War II through the confidential UKUSA Agreement. Later on, the other three countries joined the cooperation pact. Its main purpose then was to develop communications interruption technology and share expertise related to this field. Some records suggest that the ECHELON project actually started in 1971.
Originally, ECHELON only involved spying on international telex and phone traffic. But when satellite and microwave communications became available, domestic traffic was also monitored. Even member countries of this project were allowed to monitor each other as part of the agreement. With cooperative exchange of ideas and technology between the member countries, ECHELON is believed to be capable of intercepting up to 3 billion worth of communications traffic every single day. This communication traffic may be in the form of basic phone calls, electronic mail messages, satellite transmissions, and even downloads from the Internet. ECHELON is also believe to be involved into tapping underwater communication tables and uses several satellites to catch valuable information from all over the world.
Much of the information gathering and data interception of the ECHELON project is confidential. And many of the details about this project are based on rumors and assumptions. But the only thing that is concrete is that part of worldwide daily communication traffic is constantly being monitored through the ECHELON project for purposes of national security. But some reports also suggest that data collected from this project are also being used by private companies to gain an edge over their competitors.