President Hollande of France will use a European summit later this week to call for tighter security for personal data in the wake of a furore over large-scale US spying.
Le Monde newspaper said the US National Security Agency snooped on 70.3 million French phone calls and texts in under a month, between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013.
The French foreign minister summoned the US ambassador and will also complain when he sees Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Tuesday.
“We had already been alerted in June and we reacted strongly but obviously we need to go further. This kind of practice between partners, that violates privacy is totally unacceptable. We must ensure quickly that these practices are no longer repeated,” Laurent Fabius said.
It is thought terrorism suspects were targeted as well as others with ties to business, politics and administration.
Le Monde says the new information came from data leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It details how the use of certain phone numbers and key words in text messages would trigger alerts.
Paris has support from Germany, whose Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he could “understand the indignation and anger in France” regarding the United States because “this is not the way we should work between partners and friends”. He added that American spying on other countries, especially Germany, needed clarifying.
Euronews Paris correspondent Giovanni Magi said:
“French and American diplomats have worked hard in recent years to rebuild the relationship that became cracked at the time of the military intervention in Iraq. Now, the revelations about wiretapping are likely to mark a setback in this process of rapprochement. And they’re also a source of embarrassment for the US Secretary of State John Kerry who’s now arrived in Paris (for talks on Syria).
“There are also questions over why the French foreign minister waited until today to summon the American ambassador. Perhaps the secret services did not have enough information on the scale of the interceptions. Or perhaps the government simply waited for the affair to become public.”
In Washington there was no immediate official reaction from any top US official. Euronews correspondent in the US Stefan Grobe added:
“It is clear that the latest revelations are embarrassing for the administration, especially as relations with France have improved over the last years. And let’s not forget that France was the only major European ally that was willing to support US military action in Syria just a few weeks ago.
“Of course, the irony is that President Obama once pledged to have the most transparent US government in history, and now he is dealing with security operations that are politically, constitutionally and morally questionable. But there may be an opportunity for Obama to transform the NSA very soon, and this is the upcoming retirement of NSA Director Keith Alexander. Obama could appoint somebody who will make sure that individual rights are more protected. That would be something that privacy groups have already advocated.”
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