French President Hollande berates US over spying claims

The allegations were carried in France's Le Monde newspaper and are based on leaks from US ex-intelligence analyst Edward Snowden

French President Francois Hollande has expressed "deep disapproval" over claims the US National Security Agency secretly tapped phone calls in France.

In a phone conversation with US President Barack Obama, he said this was "unacceptable between friends and allies", demanding an explanation.

The White House said the claims "raise legitimate questions".

The NSA spied on 70.3 million phone calls in France between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013, it is claimed.

Officials, businesses and terror suspects are among those believed to have been tracked.

The allegations were carried in France's Le Monde newspaper and are based on leaks from US ex-intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.

'Security challenge'

John Kerry talked about "protecting the security of our citizens"

They prompted President Obama to call his French counterpart to discuss the issue on Monday.

Mr Hollande said that such practices "infringe on the privacy of French citizens" and demanded "explanations" from Mr Obama, according to a statement issued by French presidency.

A White House statement said the two presidents had discussed the latest disclosures, "some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed".

It said: "President [Obama] made clear that the United States has 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."

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would continue "bilateral consultations" to address the issue, describing France as "one of our oldest allies".

Press review

  • Liberation is intrigued to see that the alleged phone-tapping peaked "in the middle of negotiations on the transatlantic free-trade agreement". It warns that there is a "war in the shadows between allies on the economic battlefield".
  • Le Figaro believes that EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday failed to rally to France's defence. "France is finding little support in Europe as it calls the White House to account," it says.
  • Le Monde defends its decision to publish the story that sparked the row. An editorial entitled "Fighting Big Brother" says "the public must not be kept ignorant of eavesdropping and spying programmes which become so extensive that they undermine any principle of checks and balances in a democracy."
  • Regional daily La Nouvelle Republique opts for humour. A front-page cartoon shows an official summoning the US ambassador over "large-scale" spying. The envoy retorts: "I know, we intercepted the message."

"Protecting the security of our citizens in today's world is a very complicated, very challenging task... because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people," Mr Kerry said.

In an earlier statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that "all nations" conducted spying operations.

"As a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations," she said.

Envoy summoned

Le Monde says the NSA intercepts were apparently triggered by certain key words.

The agency also apparently captured millions of text messages.

It was unclear whether the content of the calls and messages was stored, or just the metadata - the details of who was speaking to whom.

And the paper did not say whether the operation, codenamed US-985D, was still in progress.

France's foreign ministry summoned US ambassador Charles Rivkin over the allegations.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Paris says the outrage is largely for public consumption, because the French government has been accused of running its own snooping operation similar to the US.

US allies on spying claims

  • US agencies accused of spying on leaders of Brazil and Mexico; Brazil's Dilma Rousseff cancels state visit, Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto says US has promised an inquiry
  • US allegedly runs bugging operations on EU mission in Washington and other European embassies; France objects, Germany cancels surveillance agreement with US and UK
  • Le Monde claims NSA snooped on millions of phone calls in France; US ambassador in Paris summoned to explain

Le Monde reported in July that the French government was storing vast amounts of personal data of its citizens on a supercomputer at the headquarters of the DGSE intelligence service.

The latest revelations follow claims in the German media that US agents hacked into the email account of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Mr Snowden, a former NSA worker, went public with revelations about US spying operations in June.

The information he leaked led to claims of systematic spying by the NSA and CIA on a global scale.

Targets included rivals like China and Russia, as well as allies like the EU and Brazil.

The NSA was also forced to admit it had captured email and phone data from millions of Americans.

Mr Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted a year-long visa after making an asylum application.

The US wants him extradited to face trial on criminal charges.

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