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, organisations or persons.”
In 2001, the EP report, recommended that citizens of member states routinely use cryptography in their communications to protect their privacy. In the UK, the government introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which gives authorities the power to demand that citizens hand over their encryption keys, without a judge-approved warrant. In April 2004, the European Union decided to spend 11 million euros developing secure communication based on quantum cryptography — the SECOQC project — a system that would theoretically be unbreakable by ECHELON or any other espionage system.
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