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Report: France runs surveillance program like PRISM

By Laura Smith-Spark. Jim Bittermann and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Fri July 5, 2013
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls at the Officers School of the National Gendarmerie in Melun on July 2, 2013.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls at the Officers School of the National Gendarmerie in Melun on July 2, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • France's secret service snoops on phone calls and e-mails, Le Monde says
  • E-mails, SMS, phone call, Facebook and Twitter data are stored, it says
  • This explains France's "weak response" to reports of U.S. spying on Europe, it says

Paris (CNN) -- France carries out mass surveillance of phone calls and e-mails in a program similar to the American one revealed by U.S. leaker Edward Snowden, a French newspaper has claimed.

The program is run by France's secret service, the Directorate General for External Security, and also is used by six other French intelligence services, national daily Le Monde alleged in a report late Thursday.

It says it is able to prove that the agency "systematically collects electromagnetic signals from computers or phones in France, and also collects flows between French and abroad: all our communications are spied on."

"All e-mails, SMS, records of telephone calls, accesses to Facebook, Twitter, are then stored for years."

The newspaper's report comes on the heels of wide European concern over the disclosures made by Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor.

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Documents he's leaked to the media have led to allegations that the United States has been spying on its European allies as well as carrying out mass surveillance of telephone and Internet traffic.

But Le Monde claims the French government's response has betrayed its conflicting interests.

"If revelations on the U.S. spying system (PRISM) led to a chorus of indignation in Europe, France only showed weak signs of protest. For two excellent reasons: Paris already knew. And it does the same thing," it said.

Le Monde alleges that the French intelligence agencies' use of this huge store of data is "on the margin of legality, and beyond serious control" and that politicians who are aware of it turn a blind eye.

It cites a parliamentary intelligence committee report from April in which it was said that "since 2008, progress has been made on the subject of sharing capacities, especially in the field of electromagnetic intelligence, led by the DGSE for the profit of the intelligence community."

The French government has not yet responded to several requests from CNN for comment.

At about the same time the allegations were published by Le Monde, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls gave a speech to guests at a July 4 celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Paris in which he was critical of the alleged U.S. spying on its allies.

Espionage has no place in relations between allied countries, said Valls, adding that they should depend on reciprocal confidence to maintain their alliance.

The occasion of his remarks, as a guest of the U.S. Embassy, led some of his fellow countrymen to complain that he had overstepped proprieties.

Valls declined to answer subsequent questions from reporters about the claims made in Le Monde.

National Assembly lawmaker Jean-Jacques Urvoas, a member of the governing Socialist Party, questioned the accuracy of Le Monde's report in his blog Friday, saying he did so "because intelligence matters do not easily accommodate fantasies and inaccuracies."

"While the legal framework concerning intelligence activities is indeed very incomplete, allowing our services to use wiretaps, the acquiring of technical data ... and limited access to files, the assertion that 'all of our communications are spied upon (and) stored for years' does not quite match the reality that I know," he wrote.

Urvoas, who is president of the National Assembly's law commission and a member of a parliamentary intelligence committee, said that the tools used by services to intercept the Internet communications of French citizens operate within a legal framework laid down in 1991.

"French citizens are therefore not subject to uncontrolled, massive and constant espionage," he wrote.

Snowden is believed to have been holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23, having arrived there from Hong Kong.

Opinion: Why we're all stuck in the digital transit zone with Snowden

CNN's Jim Bittermann reported from Paris, while Laura Smith-Spark and Saskya Vandoorne wrote and reported from London. CNN's Laura Richardson also contributed to this report.

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