In 1988 (that's not a typo), investigative journalist and forensic expert Duncan Campbell wrote an article for the New Statesman Society titled Somebody's listening [PDF]. In it, Campbell explains how the 5 eyes already had the ability to intercept every kind of communication, including civilian, everywhere in the world. That was 26 years ago.
The vast international global eavesdropping network has existed since shortly after the second world war, when the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand signed a secret agreement on signals intelligence, or "sigint". It was anticipated, correctly, that electronic monitoring of communications signals would continue to be the largest and most important form of post-war secret intelligence, as it had been through the war.
Although it is impossible for analysts to listen to all but a small fraction of the billions of telephone calls, and other signals which might contain "significant" information, a network of monitoring stations in Britain and elsewhere is able to tap all international and some domestic communication circuits, and sift out messages which sound interesting. Computers automatically analyse every telex message or data signal, and can also identify calls to, say, a target telephone number in London, no matter from which country they originate.
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