ECHELON was capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks (which once carried most Internet traffic) and microwave links.
Intelligence monitoring of citizens, and their communications, in the area covered by the AUSCANNZUKUS security agreement has caused concern. British journalist Duncan Campbell and New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager asserted in the 1990s that the United States was exploiting ECHELON traffic for industrial espionage, rather than military and diplomatic purposes. Examples alleged by the journalists include the gear-less wind turbine technology designed by the German firm Enercon and the speech technology developed by the Belgian firm Lernout & Hauspie. An article in the US newspaper Baltimore Sun reported in 1995 that European aerospace company Airbus lost a $6 billion contract with Saudi Arabia in 1994 after the US National Security Agency reported that Airbus officials had been bribing Saudi officials to secure the contract.
And this is just ONE program from the 60s... It's been around forever. This isn't conspiracy either, there's government reports from multiple countries on the books about ECHELON and it's capabilities. Supposed it's based on "keywords", like it won't ever record anything unless a string of keywords are picked up in its handling/scans of traffic, be it voice, fax, or microwave. This program was instituted before the internet, so that's why things like ADVISE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADVISE) and Carnivore (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivore_%28software%29) and Narus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NarusInsight) exist. Essentially the same goals as ECHELON but for the new mediums.
After the cold war ended, they didn't shut these programs down, they just had more free time to monitor other people, be it citizens or foreigners. All they are doing is diversifying and getting more programs like this that are capable of breaking encryption as well. It sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy book, but it's all real.
The fact that Verizon was giving up meta-data is just the tip of the iceberg and nothing to worry about, when compared with the fact that they can intercept any form of any communication any time they want. They filter EVERYTHING, and it's all based on keywords. No one is tracking us now persay, but if you say a certain string of hot-button keywords on a forum, phone call, or messaging program, guess what, those communications are going to get someone looking into them and reviewing them and archiving them. It's mostly automated to reduce actual man power.
They don't care about overreach when few people even care that these programs exist, yet everyone freaks out when Verizon handed over meta-data because it affects them as a well defined customer group, but when people report on a program that monitors everyone and everything? It can't be personified so it passes with a whimper at best. Metadata they actually requests is one thing, the mass filtering they do of everything everyday is what needs to get out more. A lot of people are now talking about these programs more now that the NSA is in the news, which is good news for dialogue and informing people. But every agency has their signals intelligence programs, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, private firms that get contracted by those groups, other countries programs that share data with us, and us with them, etc.
Narus: (what replaced it)
Case against ATT when they let the NSA install these blackboxes on their network...
Bush admin Smush admin... This signals intelligence game has been around since the mid 50s. And no, I'm not a conspiracy nut, I'm just really into military programs and capabilities and stuff like this. And if you research it, it's all very real, and well documented dating back to the mid 50s. They can even record from the mic of a cellphone that is powered OFF remotely... Look up "batteries out meetings". This is something top officials do when discussing higher level information, because if we can do it, our enemies can probably do it to. You either aren't allowed to bring a cellphone into the meeting room, or everyone has to pull their batteries out before they start talking. (The atlantic article I linked up near the top talks about this is well).
They can do nearly anything. It's impressive and scary at the same time.