France: another snooping state, says Le Monde

A report from Le Monde alleges that France's external intelligence services have been operating extensive surveillance programs similar to those conducted by the NSA in the US.

Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Members of the European Parliament take part in a voting session about the National Security Agency about its surveillance programs, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 4.

It appears that the US surveillance programs aren’t exactly one of a kind. In an article entitled “Revelations on the French Big Brother,” the French daily Le Monde alleges that France’s external intelligence services have been spying on French communications in a vast surveillance program akin to those used by the NSA and exposed by Edward Snowden.

According to the report, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) collects transmissions from phones and computers in France and between France and other countries, including phone records, text messages, e-mails, and Facebook and Twitter activity, and stores the information for years.

Rather than monitoring the content of the intercepted messages, the French surveillance program – like those of the NSA – tracks metadata: who is speaking to whom, when and where they are doing it, and how often. This information “allows [DGSE] to draw huge maps of the connections between people based on their digital activity.” The article claims all this activity is illegal.

Le Monde alleges that the other branches of France’s intelligence services have access to this information as well. The data is stockpiled underground at the DGSE headquarters in Paris, on Boulevard Mortier, taking up three entire floors.

DGSE is the second-largest intelligence agency in Europe, second only to Britian’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), according to the report.

Last month, a Guardian article revealed that GCHQ was also snooping on vast amounts of Internet metadata. Their program, called Tempora, may have been started as early as 2007. 

The office of French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has denied the allegations, calling them “inexact” and claiming that “all these interceptions are governed by the [law],” reports Le Monde. Other French officials have been quick to note that these programs are different from the NSA’s, but Le Monde has called DGSE “the little brother of America’s [intelligence] services.”

The allegations come in the wake of a scandal surrounding US spying activities in Europe. Last week, German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed that the NSA had been spying on both European citizens and European Union institutions.

European leaders were outraged. "If the allegations prove to be true, it would be an extremely serious matter which will have a severe impact on EU-US relations,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned, according to CNN.  France even called for the suspension of US-EU free trade talks, writes the Associated Press.

The report was based on documents revealed by Mr. Snowden, the former NSA-contractor-turned-leaker who is now reported to be hiding in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. Yesterday, France officially denied Snowden asylum, one day after Germany rejected his request, reports France’s the Local.

Le Monde contends that, while Europe has been in an uproar over the NSA spying revelations, France has protested only slightly for two reasons: “Paris already knew. And it does the same thing.”

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