THE British and US Governments are to be sued in France after claims that
they have spied on French companies, diplomats and Cabinet ministers. Lawyers
are planning a class action after confirmation last week that a global
anglophone spy network exists.
- Codenamed P-415 Echelon, the world's most powerful electronic
spy system was revealed in declassified US National Security Agency documents
published on the Internet, and is capable of intercepting telephone conversations,
faxes and e-mails.
- The system was established in the 1980s by the UKUSA
alliance, which unites the British, American, Australian, New Zealand and
Canadian secret services. In Europe, its listening devices are at Menwith
Hill defence base in Yorkshire. French MPs claim to have evidence that
the European Airbus consortium lost a Fr35 billion (£3.5 billion)
contract in 1995 after its offer was overheard and passed to Boeing. Georges
Sarre, a left-wing MP, said: "The participation of the United Kingdom
in spying on its European partners for and with the US raises serious and
legitimate concerns in that it creates a particularly acute conflict of
interest within the European Union."
- The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee will
study a report on the Echelon network on February 23. The debate is certain
to fuel criticism of Britain's role.
- Until this month, the network was an official secret
recognised by none of the members of the UKUSA alliance. But the documents
published by the George Washington University prove its existence and its
capacity to intercept civilian satellite communications.
- Jean-Pierre Millet, a Parisian lawyer, said that Echelon
tracked every mobile and satellite call, but only decoded those involving
a key figure. "You can bet that every time a French government minister
makes a mobile phone call, it is recorded," he said.
- M Millet said that Echelon's system leaves it open to
legal challenge under French privacy laws. "The simple fact that an
attempt has been made to intercept a communication is against the law in
France, however the information is exploited." Yesterday he said that
he would bring an action on behalf of French civil liberty groups.
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