Intellectual Property

Echelon Spy Network Secrets To Be Revealed in Megaupload Copyright Case

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Listening station

There was a lot of buzz a decade or so ago about Echelon, an international electronic surveillance network said to link the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. A flurry of stories covered the connections among the five countries, speculation about the network's capabilities, and rumors about Echelon's targets in a post-Cold War world. The European Parliament even produced a report (PDF) discussing the the potential risks the spy system posed to the European Union. Then, as with all such things, public attention shifted elsewhere and most people lost interest in an old-hat international surveillance system. Now, Echelon is re-entering the headlines, and we are likely to learn more about the network's capabilities than conspiracy fans ever dreamed possible, all because of the copyright case against the defunct online storage company, Megaupload.

In the increasingly bizarre case unfolding in Hobbit-land, we learned months ago that the Government Communications Security Bureau, New Zealand's equivalent of the National Security Agency, illegally spied on eccentric former Megaupload chief, Kim Dotcom. The New Zealand government did so at the behest of its American friends, and apparently shared real-time intelligence with U.S. officials. Befuddled judges in New Zealand, seeking to discover just how far down the rabbit hole government officials went in their efforts for an intellectual property case, now want to know the whole story. From the New Zealand Herald:

The High Court at Auckland ordered the police to produce details either proving or discounting the existence of a live video feed of the raid after contradictory evidence from a senior police officer.

The case is now aimed at the heart of New Zealand's intelligence arrangements with the United States and the other Echelon partners—Australia, Canada and Britain.

The secret group, also known as Five Eyes, collects and analyses data from electronic networks around the world for the benefit of exchange between member countries.

The order for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GSCB) to reveal top-secret details came along with an order the spy agency would now sit alongside the police as a defendant as the court continued to probe the unlawful search warrant used in the raid on Dotcom's north Auckland mansion.

At the time of the European Parliament report on Echelon, EU officials were concerned that the system was being used by its English-speaking sponsors for commercial purposes after the fall of the Communist bloc. We're in a brave new world, of course, and providers of all sorts of goods and services have to be flexible in seeking new markets. But the pursuit of copyright claims by Echelon would seem to reduce the high-tech snooping alliance to the level of a private investigator specializing in matrimonial bed-hopping and free-pouring by bartenders.

Given how long the Echelon partners kept their Cold War-era arrangement and its capabilities secret, it would be a wonderful postscript to see the whole damned thing exposed by a petty copyright case mishandled by old-school spooks who still think everything in the world operates like a prisoner exchange in 1960s Berlin.

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  1. We have to protect our phoney-baloney jobs here, gentlemen!

  2. Just went you think you’ve caught up with the Pentaverate…

    1. Typically they can be found at the meadows.

    2. Oh I hated the Colonel, with his wee beady eye! And that smug look on his face, “Oh, you’re gonna buy my chicken! Ohhh!”

    3. Oh, I hated the Colonel with his wee beady eyes. And that smug look on his face.

  3. I think I’ve seen this one. The fat hairy dude has to push the spy rings into a volcano to destroy the five eyes, or something, and then a bunch of short guys cry a lot and hug each other until it gets really uncomfortably repressed, right?

  4. I keep looking at that picture and envisioning a giant golf club swatting that building into orbit. PWND!

  5. Give the defendant credit here. He hasn’t rolled over and plead, and has already started recovering damages for this little extralegal adventure.

    Now he’s using his due process rights to strip away the Total Surveillance State’s shroud of secrecy.

    Despite my rather troglodytic views on IP, as far as I’m concerned he’s the Libertarian of the Year.

    1. Troglodytic? Would that be in favor of IP or against IP?

      1. In favor, in principle. Enamored of our current system, not so much.

  6. So a Cold War system designed to spy on the Soviets is being used to protect the IP (and profits) of private companies?

    Anyone surprised?

  7. So a Cold War system designed to spy on the Soviets is being used to protect the IP (and profits) of private companies?

    Anyone surprised?

  8. Looks like Rover.

  9. Rabbit hole? Don’t you mean hobbit hole?

  10. Nothing like going after a rich guy without first seizing all his liquid assets. That’s a tall cool glass of amateur hour. I mean come on, would it have been that hard to call Cuomo or Guliani for help?

  11. This is the most wonderful thing I’ve read all day.

  12. As an inhabitant of “hobbiton”, I must take issue with the statement “Befuddled judges in N.Z.” If it weren’t for Justice Winklemann (pronounced Win Kell Man) being one very sharp cookie, who cops NO shit, Mr Dotcom wouldn’t be in the position he’s in now, with the prosecution on the back foot.

    I hope he wins his case against extradition as the courts in the USA will be stacked against him and he wont get anything faintly resembling a fair trial. The ineptness of the F.I.B. in their behind-the-scenes-machinations combined with a Prime Minister of N.Z completely enthralled with America and you have a case where the N.Z. Police and the GCSB, (both acting without taking 5 minutes to sit and ask WHAT this case might REALLY be about), have taken shortcuts which have broken N.Z. law and look certain to derail the case against Megaupload.

    Judge Winklemann is not a happy camper either after she found out that the N.Z. Police had, against her express orders,let the F.I.B. remove evidence from the country . . and refuse to return it!! So continue to watch this space. I believe that a case like this, i.e. heard by a judge alone acting to the letter of the law, will not allow extradition. And the longer it drags out the more Dotcom becomes the media and public darling, opening his palatial mansion up for school fundraisers, providing New Years eve fireworks displays (to the tune of $50k plus!!)etc., etc. Like I said, watch this space.

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