European Parliament: Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI)), © European Parliament.


For many years, the global monitoring system ECHELON was widely considered to exist only in the imaginations of "conspiracy theorists." Today, in an age in which many a former "conspiracy theory" has since been revealed as a conspiracy reality, we draw attention to the European Parliament's "Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications" 2001.

The Report, which identifies the system (in whole or part) as "code-named ECHELON", describes it as "a global system" for "intercept[ing] private and commercial communications", "operating by means of cooperation... among the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand", and insists that its existence is "no longer in doubt." Though judging its capabilities to be "probably not nearly as extensive as some sections of the media had assumed", the Report nevertheless finds it "worrying that many senior Community figures, in particular European Commissioners... claimed to be unaware of this phenomenon."


Among the many concerns expressed in the Report, we find the following. (Underlinings added)


  • "Any interception of communications represents serious interference with an individual'’s exercise of the right to privacy." (p. 134)

  • "An intelligence system which intercepted communications permanently and at random would be in violation of the principle of proportionality and would therefore not be compatible with the ECHR." (p. 134)

  • "Since most of the rules governing the activities of US intelligence services abroad are classified, compliance with the principle of proportionality is at least doubtful and breaches of the principles of accessibility and foreseeability laid down by the European Court of Human Rights probably occur." (p. 134)

  • "Although the USA is not itself an ECHR contracting party, the Member States must nevertheless act in a manner consistent with the ECHR. The Member States cannot circumvent the requirements imposed on them by the ECHR by allowing other countries’ intelligence services, which are subject to less stringent legal provisions, to work on their territory, since otherwise the principle of legality, with its twin components of accessibility and foreseeability, would become a dead letter and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights would be deprived of its substance." (p. 134)

  • "In addition, the lawful operations of intelligence services are consistent with fundamental rights only if adequate arrangements exist for monitoring them, in order to counterbalance the risks inherent in secret activities performed by a part of the administrative apparatus." (p. 134)

  • "As the European Court of Human Rights has expressly stressed the importance of an efficient systemfor monitoring intelligence operations, there are grounds for concern in the fact that some Member States do not have parliamentary monitoring bodies of their own responsible for scrutinising the secret services." (p. 134)

  • "Part of the remit of foreign intelligence services is to gather economic data... The US intelligence services do not merely gather general economic intelligence, but also intercept communications between firms, particularly where contracts are being awarded, and they justify this on the grounds of combating attempted bribery. Detailed interception poses the risk that information may be used as competitive intelligence, rather than combating corruption, even though the US and the United Kingdom state that they do not do so. At all events, it must be made clear that the situation becomes intolerable when intelligence services allow themselves to be used for purposes of gathering competitive intelligence by spying on foreign firms with the aim of securing a competitive advantage for firms in the home country." (p. 135)


Any of this sound familiar?


 info32Report available via European Parliament website (


This report is Copyright © European Parliament and quoted here with express permission.



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