Want to know the hardware behind Echelon?

You've probably heard about Echelon, the vast listening system run by the US, UK, Canada and Australia that scans the world's voice traffic looking for key words and phrases.

Aside from using the system for industrial espionage and bypassing international and national laws to listen in on people, it is also used to listen out for people like Osama bin Laden and assorted terrorists in the hope of preventing attacks.

All this is out in the relative open thanks to investigative journalists and a European Commission report into the system, concerned and annoyed that the Brits and Yanks has got there first.

It works like this: The calls are recorded by geo-stationary spy satellites and listening stations, such as the UK's Menworth Hill, which combine satellite-intercepted calls and trunk landline intercepts and forward them on to centres, such as the US' Fort Meade, where supercomputers work on the recordings in real time.

But what, you ask, can deal with that overwhelming mass of data that helps our government spy on the world? And how does it work? <!--break-->

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