Skip to main content /TECH with /TECH

Net activists launch campaign to jam 'Echelon'

By Peter Dykstra

(CNN) -- Internet privacy activists and "hacktivists" have announced a day-long cyber-protest intended to jam a computer surveillance network whose existence isn't acknowledged by the governments said to run it.

The activists set October 21 as "Jam Echelon Day," calling on individuals to attempt to clog the purported monitoring system by using so-called "trigger" words in e-mail messages. The Echelon system is said to monitor the use of certain words such as "bomb," or "terrorism," that could suggest dangerous activity.

"Echelon" is said to be a satellite-based telecommunications network that is capable of monitoring phone calls, faxes, and e-mails to and from targeted individuals. While the surveillance network is said to be run by the U.S. National Security Agency, with assistance from colleague agencies in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, all five nations deny the existence of the Echelon system.

But in May, a European Parliament investigation concluded that "a global system for intercepting communications exists ... (and) is no longer in doubt." The European Parliament called on member nations to toughen their encryption to guard against interception, and it urged the U.K. to "reconsider" its participation in Echelon.

Reaffirming denials

U.S. officials responded by reaffirming their denials of Echelon's existence. They turned down European Parliament requests to meet on the issue.

But while leaders of "Cipherwar," the cyber-organization leading the "Jam Echelon" effort are convinced that the system exists, even they are skeptical that the jamming effort will have an impact. In an e-mail statement dated July 25, the lead organizer known only by the Web name "Scully" conceded, "While the goal of 'jamming up' Echelon is a lofty and likely unattainable one, is it not better to signal displeasure at being monitored than passively allow it to happen?"

Viewers of TV's the X-Files" will also recognize the name "Scully" as that of one of the lead characters in the conspiracy-hunting show.

The Cipherwar Web site ( contains a list of 1,700 "trigger words" that it says will draw the attention of the Echelon system. The list of these so-called trigger words ranges from the names and acronyms of government agencies, like CIA, to the names of Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and Wall Street Journal Technology Correspondent Walter Mossberg.

• Cipherwar

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top