Mass Surveillance: French Spooks and Telcos Hand in Hand

Paris, 24 March 2014 — Since May 2013, consecutive revelations have increasingly exposed the extent and severity of the extralegal surveillance activities conducted by French authorities. It is time for the French government to break its deafening silence on this issue and allow for an open and democratic debate on the extent of its surveillance practices. This is all the more important following the "Loi de programmation militaire" and these recent revelations regarding the cooperation of network operator Orange with French intelligence services. France must make it a priority to revise its current legislation in order to respect international law on privacy.

François Hollande and Barack Obama
François Hollande and Barack Obama

In the 21 March article "Espionnage : comment Orange et les services secrets coopèrent" (Espionage: How Orange and the secret services cooperate), the French newspaper Le Monde sheds more light on the Internet surveillance practices of French authorities exposed by documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The article details the collaboration between Orange and the French external intelligence service (DGSE), which was granted “unobstructed and complete access to its network and the data passing through it” outside any legal framework and without court oversight. This follows previous revelations of the massive data transfer between the French intelligence services and the US American National Security Agency (NSA), codenamed Lustre, and of the collaboration of Alcatel-Lucent, Amesys and other companies in putting in place an international system of data collection directly from the Internet backbone.

The feebleness of reactions by French politicians to these revelations reflects their astonishing hypocrisy. President François Hollande's political overtures have been empty, demanding unsuccessfully a US-EU no-spy agreement to limit eaves-dropping on political leaders and supporting Angela Merkle's call for a "European Internet". In the same time, Hollande refused to advocate for measures that would be effective in protecting the personal data of European citizens, such as the suspension of the EU-US Safe Harbor agreement proposed by the European Parliament.

The government's political spin [FR] advertising its actions on digital matters should not fool anyone: The proposed bill on "digital freedoms" announced [FR] a year ago, is likely to be mostly repressive in nature (the word "freedom" seems to have been dropped from the bill's title), while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is promoting harmful policies on e-mail encryption [FR]. What is more, French political leaders have granted themselves unprecedented surveillance powers via the scandalous "Loi de programmation militaire" and refused to participate in the European Parliament Inquiry into the Snowden revelations1.

“For months now, revelations have been met with the deafening silence of the French administration, which is trying to escape any debate on Internet mass surveillance. In view of the mounting evidence that surveillance has gone out of control, the government has no other choice than to face public scrutiny. The moment has come for all institutional actors – be it François Hollande, the government, the parliament, the judiciary or even the data protection authority – to finally face their duties to put an end to these serious breaches of fundamental rights and hold their perpetrators accountable”, declared Felix Tréguer, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

“Beyond the necessary debate on Internet surveillance and the sovereignty of our infrastructure, only through the use of free and open software, end-to-end encryption and decentralised services will it be possible to regain control over our communications. France must also reform current legal provisions on surveillance to conform to international law and establish adequate oversight of intelligence services”, concluded Benjamin Sonntag, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. The report by the Committee Inquiry, adopted 12 March, indicates that “the British and French Parliament have declined participation” and lists both director generals of Internal and of External Security (DGSE and DGRI) as having declined to participate.