ECHELON has been in excistance for a long time, it's just people are not necessarily aware of it.
"Reportedly created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its East Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early sixties, today ECHELON is believed to search also for hints of terrorist plots, drug-dealers' plans, and political and diplomatic intelligence. But some critics, including the European Union committee that commissioned the EU report, claim the system is being used also for large-scale commercial theft and invasion of privacy.
While details of methods and capabilities are highly sensitive and protected by special laws (e.g. 18 USC 798), gathering signals intelligence (SIGINT) is an acknowledged mission of the U.S. National Security Agency. As of August 2006, their web site had a FAQ page on the topic, which states:
“ NSA/CSS’s Signal Intelligence mission is to intercept and analyze foreign adversaries' communications signals, many of which are protected by codes and other complex countermeasures. We collect, process, and disseminate intelligence reports on foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements set at the highest levels of government. ... Foreign intelligence means information relating to the capabilities, intentions, and activities of foreign powers, organizations or persons. ” In 2001, the STOA report (p. 19) recommended that citizens of member states routinely use cryptography in their communications to protect their privacy."