LONDON — France reacted angrily Monday to a news report of mass electronic surveillance of its residents by the U.S. National Security Agency, summoning the American ambassador to explain what it called unacceptable treatment by a close ally.
Based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Le Monde reported that the agency’s intelligence dragnet collected 70.3 million pieces of data on French phone communications in a single month beginning in December of last year. Calls to some telephone numbers triggered recordings of conversations, and text messages containing certain keywords were also automatically picked up, the French newspaper reported.
Le Monde said it appeared that the NSA collected data on “both people suspected of association with terrorist activities as well as people targeted simply because they belong to the worlds of business, politics or French state administration.”
The new revelations of American electronic spying on a gigantic scale were published just hours before U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrived in Paris on a European tour to discuss the situation in Syria and the Middle East.
Le Monde’s story also came on the heels of an embarrassing report that the NSA had tapped into an email server used by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his Cabinet. Other countries revealed in documents leaked by Snowden as targets of U.S. espionage include Germany and Brazil, whose leader, President Dilma Rousseff, was so incensed that last month she abruptly canceled a planned visit to Washington.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that he had summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin for an explanation.
“This kind of practice between partners that undermines privacy is totally unacceptable,” Fabius told reporters at a gathering of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg. “We have to make sure … that it no longer takes place.”
Le Monde’s report said that, between Dec. 10, 2012, and Jan. 8, 2013, the NSA averaged more than 3 million data intercepts a day of French residents’ telephone communications. The article did not identify any specific targets of the surveillance.
Earlier this year, Le Monde alleged that France’s own intelligence authorities had developed the country’s own massive electronic surveillance system, with the ability to monitor communications within France and between users in France and other countries, including phone calls, emails, text messages and even posts on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The French government has disputed that report.
Officials reserved special outrage Monday for the idea that a friendly nation such as the U.S. would put France on its target list.
“If an allied country spies on France or spies on other European countries, that’s totally unacceptable,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told Europe 1 radio.