UN snooping: the technology of surveillance

Western democracies have been evolving networks of international snooping facilities since the Second World War, whilst the proliferation of mobile devices is making surveillance easier than ever

It doesn't matter if you're Kofi Annan or the wife of the Prince of Wales: if you're saying something interesting, the spies will listen in. And their job has never been easier.

Not only has modern technology made bugging devices tiny and silent, we willingly equip ourselves with gadgets that Q himself would have given his best tweed jacket for. To us, a mobile phone is an essential social and business tool: to the state surveillance machine, it's a tracking device that pinpoints us anywhere in the world and then relays our conversations and electronic communications over easily intercepted radio. We even pay for it ourselves.

For all they like to hear us talk, the governments of the world would rather remain silent on the matter. But as recent events have shown, it is increasingly hard for them to keep the lid on what they do and how they do it. We know that since the Second World War, many of the English-speaking democracies have banded together in pacts that allows them to spy on each other's citizens without breaking any laws back at home.

Echelon, a US-led venture that has support from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is a good example. Echelon's function is to covertly intercept information and pass it to those who need to know. Its main source of raw information is electronic signals. These can be carried on radio or on copper or fibre cables: with few exceptions, wireless signals can be best intercepted remotely while cables need a physical tap.

ZDNet UK has been watching the watchers for years: take the time to read what we've found out.

Bush pushes for expansion of surveillance law
The US President wants to renew the Patriot Act, which gives police far-reaching powers over electronic data

Ruling bars police from in-car computer snooping
A US court has decided that the FBI was wrong to eavesdrop on conversations inside a car via its on-board computer - but not out of concern for privacy

Snooping laws may be illegal
A privacy group is alleging that data-gathering laws being implemented in the UK break human-rights regulations

FBI seeks power to eavesdrop on Net
The FBI wants the right to listen in on Internet phone calls because it says terrorists can communicate undetected through voice calls placed online

Americans reject antiterrorism database
A project tagged by privacy advocates 'the most intrusive surveillance programme in US history' has been dumped after a political backlash

Echelon: How it works
How does the covert arm of the intelligence services work? How does Echelon listen to and see what its targets are doing?

Echelon: World under watch, an introduction
Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell first brought attention to Echelon through a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4. Here he introduces a major ZDNet investigation into the new, automated, desktop snooping

The blind spot in the panopticon
New surveillance technologies may put us all under glass, but those responsible will have to take the consequences

Text, lies and videophones
The technology of the future could be putting words in your mouth - and there may be no way to tell imitation from reality.

Echelon: your files in their hands
While the UK government is bound by law not to investigate the affairs of its citizens without legal safeguards, and the same's true of most other democracies, they can investigate the affairs of each other's citizens without worry.