22nd Mar 2018

MEPs slam US snooping, amid revelations France does the same

  • France's secret service spies on its citizens, reports Le Monde (Photo: Palagret)

The European Parliament agreed on Thursday (4 July) to launch an inquiry into US spy allegations, amid revelations that France has its own secret surveillance programme.

Le Monde newspaper on Thursday said that France intercepts the metadata of emails, telephone calls and all Internet activity that passes through Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo.

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The collected data is compressed and stored at the Paris-based DGSE, the country's foreign intelligence service.

It is then scoured to seek out possible terrorists.

Interceptions are subject to procedural oversight, says the French data protection authority, Cnil, but the system itself, notes the newspaper, operates in a legal limbo.

Jeremie Zimmerman, co-founder of the Paris-based internet campaign group La Quadrature du Net, told this website that: "The DGSE surveillance appears to target mostly French citizens and their foreign correspondents, and not the whole of the world's citizens like with Prism."

He said any abuse by the DGSE would be easier to stop compared to Prism because the US intelligence agency NSA operates with complete impunity.

“Still, it is urgent that we have a proper public debate in order to oppose generalised surveillance by states and companies, as a major risk for our democracies,” he added.

The June revelations by the British daily The Guardian of the US surveillance system, codenamed Prism, on EU citizens has sparked public outrage.

Left-leaning MEPs had called for EU-US free trade talks, which are due to launch next Monday, to be suspended until trust between the two negotiating partners is restored.

But a joint-resolution adopted by the deputies on Thursday says it would be “unfortunate” if efforts to conclude the pact were to be affected by the allegations.

Instead, the resolution calls for a group of deputies in the civil liberties committee to investigate the leaks.

The group will issue a report before the end of the year.

MEPs from the major political parties supported the inquiry idea.

The Greens wanted an additional clause calling for the suspension of the trade negotiations.

The co-leader of the Green group, German MEP Rebecca Harms, said the Americans must first agree to binding data protection standards.

But conservatives and liberals backed starting the trade talks.

German conservative MEP Manfred Weber said in a debate earlier on Wednesday that the US spy tactics are unacceptable, but the talks should continue on schedule.

Dutch liberal Sophia Int’Veld said it "would be totally misguided to suspend talks on the trade agreement, but we cannot sign an agreement with a partner that we don't trust.”

Meanwhile, EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes in Estonia on Thursday warned that the bad feeling generated in the aftermath of the surveillance allegations could harm businesses.

“If European cloud customers cannot trust the United States government or their assurances, then maybe they won't trust US cloud providers either,” said the commissioner.

Public anger over the attacks has unsettled some senior figures in security circles.

The UK’s former secretary of defence and home secretary, Lord John Reid, at a recent meeting in Brussels organised by the Security and Defence Agenda, a think tank, described global Internet users as "subversive" elements which treaties and international laws cannot control.

“It [Internet] empowers now 3 billion in the world who were never before empowered and it gives them a subversive element for good and bad,” he said.

Reid held his secretary positions under former British leader Tony Blair.

He is now part of the influential private consultancy security firm, Chertoff Group, which was co-founded by a US former secretary of homeland security and a former director of operations for the CIA and the National Security Agency.

He described whistleblower Edward Snowden as an example of the threats avid Internet users pose to global security.

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