Documents from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reveal how the US uses illegal covert techniques to monitor European business communications, including Britain's, to give American companies economic advantages. The activity is illegal.
The documents, uncovered by NBC News and Scottish investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, reveal how the CIA and the NSA (National Security Agency) help American firms to secure billion-dollar business contracts via the satellite surveillance network code-named Echelon.
It is believed that the practice has actively been encouraged by the Clinton administration through its policy of "aggressive advocacy".
That America is spying on British businesses using Echelon is ironic: Britain and America are the two principal members of the UK/USA alliance which runs Echelon, a part of the global surveillance system. France also believes it is being spied on by Echelon.
Former Nato computer consultant Brian Gladwell is quoted in an article published in the Independent newspaper Sunday stating: "If we look at cyberspace we have state-sponsored information piracy. We can't have global e-commerce until governments like the US stop state-sponsored theft of commercial information."
MEPs are due to meet Wednesday in both Strasbourg and Berlin to discus Echelon and its ramifications for Europe. They are expected to press for greater investigation of the system as well as EP approved protocols for its use.
It is also understood the European Court of Justice will be looking at whether Echelon's activities in Europe breach the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Treaty of Rome.
Head of Privacy International and visiting lecturer at the LSE (London School of Economic) Simon Davies says the evidence gives new insight into the work of security services in the US. "This has the potential to be enormously powerful as an issue," he says. "Economic espionage is one of the economic justifications for the NSA but until now we didn't know the details. This opens up a legal Pandora's box."
Davies adds that by co-operating with the US, Britain could be in breach of treaty agreement and open to prosecution by its European neighbours.
In a recent interview with ZDNet UK a spokesperson from GCHQ confirms that economic matters fall into its surveillance remit but denies involvement in economic espionage.
"The [British] government has a duty to protect the country against adverse developments overseas that might have grave and damaging consequences for the nations economic well being. This does not mean intelligence gathering on behalf of UK companies, let alone those of any other country," she says.
Labour MP Derek Wyatt believes the documents highlight the need for government accountability.
"If America is doing this, it is wrong and if we had open government we would know more details. If the Freedom of Information Bill is not strong enough to force the government to open up on matters like this, it should be rejected.," says Wyatt.
The Freedom of Information Bill aims to create greater exposure of government activities in order to increase public accountability. The Bill is likely to receive its third reading in the House of Lords after recess in October.
And while Britain readies herself for a potentially damning legal investigation that could cause serious damage to European relations, David Lataf the French lawyer bringing legal action against the NSA for industrial espionage later this year welcomes the new evidence.
"For sure this is going to help," he says. "Our case is about commercial use [of Echelon]. We have some evidence but these are new things," he says.
Nataf believes that while this may not be news to governments in Europe, it will help raise public awareness about the situation, drawing attention to the illegal activity. "I think now every country in Europe is used to being betrayed. France is also spying on people. We must be sure that people know about the importance of it."
Former Nato computer consultant Brian Gladwell is quoted in an article published in the Independent Newspaper Monday stating that the industrial espionage is damaging European e-commerce.
"If we look at cyberspace we have state-sponsored information piracy. We can't have global e-commerce until governments like the US stop state-sponsored theft of commercial information," he says.
International governments are invading the privacy of companies and individuals...illegally, Find out who's spying on you and how they're doing it in our exclusive Echelon news special.
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