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May 28, 2001

SECRET cyber cops are operating a global eavesdropping operation to tap into private e-mails and faxes, it was revealed yesterday.

The shadowy spy network - codenamed Echelon - has been set up to intercept private and commercial communications.

The hush-hush operation is run by an alliance of US, British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian security services.

Neil MacCormick, SNP vice chairman of the European Parliament's Echelon committee, warned: "People should treat their e-mails like seaside postcards - put anything you like on them but don't be surprised if someone else reads them."

A report by MEPs said there was overwhelming evidence of the group's existence and warned its activities could be a breach of human rights.

Their report is expected to warn individuals and businesses to encode their faxes and e-mails.

The probe was sparked by claims the US had used Echelon to steal commercial secrets from European competitors, but found no evidence to support allegations the surveillance system had been used for industrial espionage.

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