In the latest should-be-a-shock-but-is-really-more-of-a-shrug-at-this-point surveillance scandal, the French newspaper Le Monde revealed Friday that France also runs a PRISM-type program.
Le Monde reported that metadata from the Internet—including emails, Facebook, Google and Twitter—as well as from text messages and phone records, has been kept for several years on massive servers in the basement of the DGSE, France's external intelligence agency. We are...not so surprised.
These revelations may put the French President Francois Hollande, who recently threatened to pull out of free trade agreements with the U.S. because of America's surveillance tactics, in an awkward position.
“We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies,” the French president said last week about the NSA's spying on EU embassies. “We ask that this immediately must stop.”
Well, that's potentially embarrassing.
But there are differences between PRISM and the DGSE-run program. For one thing, PRISM looked at actual content of emails and could access live Skype video chats, whereas the French snoop-system just stores metadata. The programs also get the data from different sources: France uses spy satellites, listening stations in French overseas territories and undersea cables, whereas the U.S. apparently had direct access to the servers of the big Internet companies.
Although Le Monde decried the surveillance, calling DGSE "Big Brother" and claiming that the activities were entirely illegal, both the French national security commission and the parliamentary intelligence committee have refuted the allegations.
Let's face it, if the DGSE is anything like the NSA, "legal" is just a matter of making sure the right paperwork with the right wording was submitted at one point.