Problem

Misuse of government surveillance of communications


Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Abusive monitoring of communication by governments
Nature:

Surveillance authority is regularly abused, even in many of the most democratic countries. The main targets are political opposition, journalists, and human rights activists. The U.S. government is leading efforts to further relax legal and technical barriers to electronic surveillance. The Internet is coming under increased surveillance.

Background:

Immediately following the Second World War, in 1947, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed a National Security pact known as the "Quadripartite," or United Kingdom - United States Agreement (UKUSA). Its intention was to seal an intelligence bond in which a common National Security objective was created. Under the terms of the agreement, the five nations carved up the earth into five spheres of influence, and each country was assigned particular targets. The UKUSA Agreement standardized terminology, code words, intercept handling procedures, arrangements for cooperation, sharing of information, and access to facilities. One important component of the agreement was the exchange of data and personnel. The link means that operatives from one intelligence agency could request another to intercept local communications, and pass on the contents without either nation having to formally approve or disclose the interception.

The strongest alliance within the UKUSA relationship is the one between the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The most important facility in the alliance is Menwith Hill, in the north of England. With two dozen radomes and a vast computer operations facility, the base has the capacity to eavesdrop on vast chunks of the communications spectrum. With the creation of Intelsat and digital telecommunications, Menwith and other stations developed the capability to eavesdrop on an extensive scale on fax, telex and voice messages. It is widely believed that Menwith Hill has around 40,000 lines connected to it, through which access could be gained to much of European and Soviet communications.

A report published in late 1997 by the European Parliament has confirmed that "Project Echelon" gives the NSA the ability to search nearly all data communications for "key words." Messages are not currently analysed for overall content, nor is the scanning done in real time, but daily reports provide "precursor" data which assists intelligence agencies determine targets. Automatic scanning of voice communications may not be far behind. A voice recognition system called "Oratory" has been used for some years to intercept and analyse diplomatic phone calls. The report -- "Assessing the Technologies of Political Control" -- states, "Within Europe all email telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency transferring all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill in the North York moors in the UK." The report sparked a wave of concern in Europe which led on September 14, 1998, to a debate in the European Parliament. A "compromise resolution" framed that day by the four major parties called for greater accountability and "protective measures" over the activities of security agencies.

Incidence:

The largest amount of public surveillance is carried out in the USA by the National Security Agency. Most of the NSA annual budget of approximately $4 billion is allegedly allocated to the procurement of the latest computer and surveillance technology, reputedly capable of intercepting and analysing up to 70% of all telephone, radio, telex and data traffic around the world. As early as 1971 an incinerator with a capacity of 6 tons of paper per hour was required to deal with the 36 tons of paper generated in every 8 hour monitoring shift.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
22.05.2019 – 17:12 CEST