Leak Shows NSA Grabbed Data On 70 Million French Phone Calls In Less Than 30 Days


from the no-wonder-its-data-centers-are-bursting-into-flames dept

Tim Cushing
TechDirt
October 21, 2013

nsa-squareAnother leak has been released from Edward Snowden’s files, this one covered by French newspaper Le Monde. Sam Jones, writing for The Guardian, breaks down the details.

The report in Le Monde, which carries the byline of the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA’s actions, claims that between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France.

According to the paper, the documents show that the NSA was allegedly targeting not only terrorist suspects but politicians, businesspeople and members of the administration under a programme codenamed US-985D.

“The agency has several collection methods,” Le Monde said. “When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovers SMS and content based on keywords.”

Le Monde says “recording” but according to the Washington Post, the NSA grabbed the metadata on 70 million calls and recorded an unknown number of calls originating from certain phone numbers. Even considering the fact that intelligence agencies consider foreign surveillance to be completely normal (and, importantly, not granted the limited protections provided to the American public), the breadth of this collection has drawn some harsh criticism from French legislators.

The French government has summoned the US ambassador in Paris, demanding an explanation about claims that the National Security Agency has been engaged in widespread phone surveillance of French citizens…

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned: “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.”

Partners or not, grabbing data on 70.3 million phone calls in less than 30 days means there’s little being done in the way of targeting (much like here at home). Instead of answering this leak directly, spokespeople for the agency pointed to a statement made by James Clapper all the way back in June — the one that says all these collections are “legal” and subject to “Congressional oversight.” Clapper’s canned statement also refers to the NSA’s programs being used to “thwart terrorist and cyber-attacks against the US and its allies,” but that hardly explains some of the phone calls that were “targeted.”

According to the paper, the documents show that the NSA was allegedly targeting not only terrorist suspects but politicians, businesspeople and members of the administration under a programme codenamed US-985D.

Additionally, Le Monde states that unpublished information it obtained indicates massive phone surveillance on private citizens as well as more evidence of the agency delving into the “secrets of major national firms.” This latter part was also an issue in Brazil, another country where diplomatic relations have been strained by revelations of the NSA’s activities. Earlier leaks indicating the NSA spied on foreign embassies resulted in French president François Hollande threatening to suspend TAFTA negotiations. This latest leak only adds to the strain, even if a large majority of that “strain” has been, up to this point, political posturing.

The fact that the French government does plenty of its own domestic surveillance under a PRISM-esque program also indicates this call for an answer from the American ambassador to France may be more of the same. Nothing distracts from domestic surveillance issues like stories of another country’s intrusive efforts — efforts France’s intelligence agencies may likely benefit from.

The above isn’t meant to downplay the seriousness of what’s going here. The NSA is collecting even more metadata (and intercepting an unknown number of phone calls). If this leak is simply a snapshot of an ongoing program (like the Section 215 collections in the US), then the agency is likely grabbing data on upwards of 800 million phone calls a year — in just one country.


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