Hacktivists battle against Big Brother

Does the US know everything in the world? Or have techies watched The Matrix too often?

A group of cyber-activists rallied their troops Thursday in an effort to jam a secret spy network headed by the National Security Agency in the US. But it'll be difficult to gauge their success.

Email flew across Australia, Europe and the US, urging people to send out electronic messages containing subversive words that would jam up the so-called Echelon system, a National Security Agency project that supposedly can capture and analyze every phone call, fax or email sent anywhere in the world.

According to the Jam Echelon Day Web site, the system scouts for key words such as "revolution", "manifesto" and "revolt". Organisers urged people to crash Echelon by sending messages containing at least 50 of the words to friends and mailing lists. The site also provided a link to a series of rotating example messages with rambling sentences containing the "key words".

Movement organizer and Jam Echelon Day Webmaster Grant Bayley said he didn't expect to ever learn whether the event was a success, but he said hits to the site indicate at least a few people were paying attention. "We weren't sure we'd ever get any tangible feedback," said Bayley. "We mainly wanted to raise awareness."

Bayley, a system administrator for a company in Sydney, Australia, said his site got about 50,000 hits Thursday afternoon -- much lower than the millions of hits major sites get on a daily basis, but higher than the couple of hundred hit Bayley's site gets each month. He said visitors are coming from as far away as Brazil and Germany.

Bayley said he's been a silent participant in the debate over encryption and government access to information, but he decided to take a more vocal approach after watching passwords pass before his eyes on his company's computers during his daily duties as a system admin. The thought that the US, European and Australian governments could have the same access to information about private citizens disturbed him, he said. So he and some other organizers developed the site. Even the site states that its goal is probably "unattainable".

"Is it not better to signal displeasure at being monitored than passively allow it to happen?" the site reads. "We believe so. Privacy should not be something that's considered only after it's been breached." Echelon has come under fire from European parliament members, privacy advocates, and the paranoid. The NSA has yet to acknowledge its existence.

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance , a ZDNet News Special.