Several recent developments concerning technology and humankind have changed the way borders are being designed. In this paper, I have categorized what I see as the three major tiers of developments: global monitoring, ubiquitous computing technology and the pervasive use of biometrics to create virtual borders.
Tier I: Global monitoring
Nations have been active in monitoring global communications for some time, but Echelon is the most comprehensive system that has been exposed to the world’s citizenry. Echelon is a global network of listening stations and satellites that monitors all forms of electronic communications that cross borders: land and cellular phone calls, faxes, e-mail and radio signals are monitored, recorded and cross-referenced as they move through and across international borders.
Echelon was forged by a clandestine Anglo-alliance between the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain in 1948. Initially, the program was an agreement between the US and Britain to operate sensitive listening posts that were capable of monitoring international communications. By allowing Canada, Australia and New Zealand into the program, the US and Britain were able to cast a very wide net; Echelon was capable of picking up and monitoring worldwide communications from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and South America. As part of the program, each of the Echelon member’s intelligence agencies were charged with monitoring and gathering global communications.
In 1999, the Echelon program began gaining critical media attention. On 31 May 1999, Business Week published an article describing the history and direction of Echelon’s surveillance. Comparing the program to the arrival of Big Brother, the article explained how supercomputers are capable of monitoring global communications, automatically filtering individuals’ communications, and listening for keywords. If certain strings of keywords are picked up, the data is sent to human analysts for further review . There was also media concern about the United States using Echelon for purposes other than security. The Houston Chronicle detailed a European probe of the United States’ use of the Echelon program. European parliamentarians charged that the United States was using the Echelon program to help American companies compete unfairly in international competition for commercial contracts.
- David R. Burns (USA) Southern Illinois University
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