French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has summoned the US ambassador to explain allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on French telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent and gathered data on millions of phone calls.
Fabius, intercepted outside a meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, told journalists that he immediately summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry upon reading the news in French newspaper Le Monde.
Documents obtained by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that in a period of just 30 days, the NSA recorded data relating to 70.3 million phone calls involving French citizens using a process called Dialed Number Recognition on equipment based in France, the newspaper reported. This equipment can be used to trigger the automatic recording of calls to certain numbers, and also to identify SMS messages of interest by keyword, the newspaper said.
French carrier networking vendor Alcatel-Lucent and a service operated by Orange, a French carrier, were also the subject of special attention from the NSA, according to other documents obtained by Snowden and seen by the newspaper. In addition to monitoring the communications and websites of companies such as Google and Facebook, the NSA's Prism program also monitored the domains alcatel-lucent.fr and wanadoo.fr, the newspaper said.
Some of the allegations had appeared in earlier press reports, but others were new, prompting the stern reaction from French officials.
"We had already been warned in June, and we reacted strongly -- but visibly we have to go further. This type of behavior between partners, and which breaches privacy, is totally inacceptable and we must take steps rapidly to ensure that such behavior does not continue," Fabius said in a video clip shot outside the meeting.
At the meeting with the U.S. ambassador, the director of Fabius' cabinet asked him for assurance that the spying had stopped, and requested a concrete response as soon as possible, according to statement from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs released later in the day.
"From the first revelations, we proposed to our E.U. partners to include data protection in our negotiations with the U.S.," the statement continued. This resulted in the formation of a joint E.U.-U.S. working group which has met twice since its creation in July, the ministry said. In addition, E.U. heads of state and government will discuss data protection at the European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. "The digital economy cannot function well without an effective guarantee of the security of personal data," the Ministry concluded.
Fabius will also discuss the allegations of NSA actions against France with his U.S. counterpart at a meeting Tuesday, according to the ministry.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at [email protected].