WASHINGTON — The French government summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin on Monday to explain a French newspaper report that the National Security Agency swept up 70.3 million French phone records in a 30-day period.
The French government called the practice “totally unacceptable” and wanted to know why the U.S. spied on one of its closest allies.
Spying among allied countries is common, but the scope of the NSA surveillance, as revealed by leaker Edward Snowden, was larger than expected.
Similar U.S. spying programs have been revealed in Britain, Brazil, Mexico and Germany.
“The ambassador expressed his appreciation of the importance of the exchange, and promised to convey the points made back to Washington,” a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Paris said.
Rivkin assured Alexandre Ziegler, chief of staff to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that “our ongoing bilateral consultations on allegations of information gathering by U.S. government agencies would continue,” the embassy statement said.
The report in Le Monde, co-written by Glenn Greenwald, who originally revealed the surveillance program based on leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Snowden, found that when certain numbers were used, the conversations were automatically recorded. The surveillance operation also swept up text messages based on key words, Le Monde reported, based on records from Dec. 10 to Jan 7.
The French government, which wants the surveillance to cease, also renewed demands for talks on protection of personal data.
“This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said during a meeting in Luxembourg with his European counterparts. Fabius said the U.S. ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry.
The most recent documents cited by Le Monde, dated to April 2013, also indicated the NSA’s interest in email addresses linked to Wanadoo — once part of France Telecom — and Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American telecom company. One of the documents instructed analysts to draw not only from the electronic surveillance program, but also from another initiative dubbed Upstream, which allowed surveillance on undersea communications cables.
The U.S “gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council at the White House. “We’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”