Signals collection has a long secretive and enigmatic history. The very definition of espionage implies spying, most closely associated with foreign sources. Since the Echelon network, the unified function of data retrieval became a given during the cold war. With the revelation of Prism, advances in sophisticated electronic devices and software algorithms provide a major leap. The article, Is PRISM the US version of Echelon?, sums up the evolution. "With this kind of setup and ambition to capture and evaluate private conversations (well, not so private now), makes Echelon that much more believable, and that PRISM is a reflection of the infamous project, but focused solely on the US."
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