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France runs vast electronic spying operation

French newspaper says country's intelligence systematically collects data sent by computers and telephones.

Last Modified: 04 Jul 2013 21:11
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Former NSA contractor Snowden leaked a trove of information about US electronic surveillance programme [Reuters]

French intelligence services have put in place a giant electronic surveillance gathering network similar to American spying programme, Prism, leading French newspaper Le Monde has reported.

Citing no sources, the paper said France's Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), the country's foreign intelligence agency, systematically collects information about all electronic data sent by computers and telephones in France, as well as communications between France and abroad.

According to Le Monde, data on "all emails, SMSs, telephone calls, Facebook and Twitter posts'' are collected and stored in a massive three-floor underground bunker at the DGSE's headquarters in Paris.

The paper specified that it was the communications' metadata - such as when was call made and where an author was when she sent an email - that is being archived, not their content.

Government officials have not responded to requests for comment on the report, the AFP news agency said.

'Vast archive'

Le Monde said the vast archive of tens of millions of gigabytes, is accessible to France's other spy agencies, including military intelligence, domestic intelligence, Paris police and a special financial crimes task force.

A French lawmaker played down the report, saying France's surveillance gathering system is not comparable with the NSA's.

Patricia Adam, a lawmaker who until last year headed parliament's intelligence committee, said French spies "are line fishing, not trawling'' the vast oceans of data thrown up by mobile phones, emails and Internet communication.

Controversy about covert state surveillance has been a hot topic since a series of leaks last month by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about secret US and British espionage programmes.

Snowden leaked a presentation on the Prism surveillance system, which allows the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI direct access to the servers of US Internet firms such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL.

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