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Liikanen responds to Echelon spy network claims

Responding to claims that that the UK and US have been spying on European countries, Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said the technological possibilities to intercept electronic communications do exist, and there is no evidence to say the technologies are not b...
Responding to claims that that the UK and US have been spying on European countries, Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said the technological possibilities to intercept electronic communications do exist, and there is no evidence to say the technologies are not being used.

Speaking before the European Parliament, Mr Liikanen was answering the allegations - denied by both countries - of British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell of an electronic surveillance network operated by the US National Security Agency and the British intelligence service GCHQ code-named 'Echelon'.

Such a network would infringe EU rules on the right to privacy, and Mr Liikanen said that the Commission would take action if necessary.

'Let me reiterate that the Commission attaches utmost importance to the respect of human rights and rule of law. The Commission will not fail to fulfil its obligation under the Treaty if the Community law is breached.

'The Commission has been asked whether it can confirm the existence of the activities described in the report of Mr Campbell,' said Mr Liikanen, however 'it is the very nature of intelligence activities that those who are not involved in these activities are not able to confirm nor deny their existence.'

Due to the recent allegations, the Commission sought clarification from the Member States concerned. A letter received from the UK Permanent Representation to the EU said the British intelligence agencies work within a legal framework laid down by the UK Parliament. This framework 'sets out explicitly the purposes for which interception may be authorised, namely national security, safeguarding the nation's well-being and the prevention and detection of serious crime.'

The letter adds that the European Commission of Human Rights has held that the system set out in British law is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Liikanen also reported that the US Department of State said the US intelligence community was not involved in industrial espionage. The letter says that the intelligence community does 'not collect proprietary commercial, technical or financial information for the benefit of private firms.'

European Union justice ministers will discuss the sensitive issue of industrial espionage at their next meeting in May, and the European Parliament is also considering holding an inquiry.

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