"Imagine the scene--it is the bishop's first day in Heaven; dinner is over, he is relaxing in his room and there is a knock on the door and the Archangel Gabriel enters. "Sorry to disturb you Sir, but are you the bishop who told old Mrs Jones that there would be animals in Heaven?" "Yes," the bishop replies, "that is my firm belief." "Good," his visitor says, "the turkey you had for dinner last Christmas is outside and wants a few words with you." Well, these are not my words. The copyright is owned by a Mr Ray Smith of Faversham in Kent, England. That was his letter to The Times on 12 May 2000, urging people to stop telling fibs.
Thank God, my headline (above) is not a fib. "An unencrypted email message is like a letter without an envelope." And these are not my words either. They come from the European Union (EU), in its 194-page landmark report of 11 July 2001 "on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system)".
Just imagine, you and I sending a letter without an envelope down the post, and yet this letter contains some of our most sensitive messages? Would you even allow such a letter to be hand-delivered--by an intermediary--to the addressee? Have you done it before? I know you will say "No, never!". But we do it every day with our emails. Unencrypted! Each one of us! We are even worse with our telephone calls. Knowing what I know now, we say things on the phone that we shouldn't be saying on the phone. Fortunately, we now have the EU belatedly confirming that a global spy system called Echelon, operated by the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and their allies, has been intercepting our emails, fax, telephone and internet messages since the 1970s.
And not only that, Echelon also "steals firms" business secrets and passes them on to competitors [in the Echelon home countries] to give them an advantage. "New evidence shows that Echelon has existed since the 1970s and was greatly enlarged between 1975 and 1995," says Duncan Campbell, the British journalist and Echelon expert who was commissioned by the EU to write two seed reports in 1999 that formed the basis of the EU report of July 2001. According to him, "Echelon is a system used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept and process international communications via communications satellites. It is part of a global surveillance system that is now over 50 years old...