|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||Contact:|
|Friday, February 25, 2000||DC Media Relations Office|
WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call for Congressional hearings into the threat to the privacy and civil liberties of Americans from the global electronic communications surveillance system known as "ECHELON."
"In light of the controversy engendered by this week's hearings before the European Parliament, Congress must move quickly to investigate to determine if ECHELON is as sweeping and intrusive as has been reported," said Gregory T. Nojeim, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.
The ACLU said that more than 13,000 constituent letters to Congress calling for oversight hearings have been sent from its special website dedicated to monitoring ECHELON -- http://www.echelonwatch.org -- which was launched in November 1999.
Given this week's heightened public interest in ECHELON, the ACLU said it was ratcheting up the pressure on Congress, giving users of its website the ability to send copies of their letters directly to the chairman and ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has oversight authority to call hearings.
"We need Congressional hearings now more than ever to determine whether ECHELON is used by the government's intelligence community to conduct domestic electronic surveillance to circumvent protections Congress has established by law," Nojeim said.
The television news program "60 Minutes" is airing a report on Echelon this Sunday, which, according to the CBS website will feature the story of a woman whose name and telephone number went into the ECHELON database "as a possible terrorist because she told a friend on the phone that her son had 'bombed' in a school play."
"Congress has the authority and the responsibility to get to the bottom of this," said ACLU Associate Director Barry Steinhardt. "Only Congress can pierce the veil of secrecy of the puzzle palace."