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French agency spies on phone calls, email, web use, paper says

An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS
An illustration picture shows the log-on icon for the Website Twitter on an Ipad in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, January 30, 2013. REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - France's external intelligence agency spies on the French public's phone calls, emails and social media activity in France and abroad, the daily Le Monde said on Thursday.

It said the DGSE intercepted signals from computers and telephones in France, and between France and other countries, although not the content of phone calls, to create a map of "who is talking to whom". It said the activity was illegal.

"All of our communications are spied on," wrote Le Monde, which based its report on unnamed intelligence sources as well as remarks made publicly by intelligence officials.

"Emails, text messages, telephone records, access to Facebook and Twitter are then stored for years," it said.

The activities described are similar to those carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency, as described in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The documents revealed that the NSA has access to vast amounts of Internet data such as emails, chat rooms and video from large companies such as Facebook and Google, under a program known as Prism.

They also showed that the U.S. government had gathered so-called metadata - such as the time, duration and numbers called - on all telephone calls carried by service providers such as Verizon.

France's DGSE was not immediately available for comment.

Le Monde said the French national security commission whose job it is to authorize targeted spying, and the parliamentary intelligence committee, had challenged the paper's report and said it worked in accordance with the law. It said the only body that collected communications information was a government agency controlled by the prime minister's office that monitors for security breaches.

Le Monde's report comes amid a storm over media allegations that Washington regularly spies on European citizens and embassies. The allegations, made in the German magazine Der Spiegel, sparked concern from data protection watchdogs and irked European governments just as major transatlantic trade talks are about to start.

Le Monde said France's DGSE was more interested in finding out who was speaking to whom than in combing through the content of private communications. It said the DGSE stored a mass of such metadata in the basement of its Paris headquarters.

France's seven other intelligence services, including domestic secret services and customs and money-laundering watchdogs, have access to the data and can tap into it freely as a means to spot people whose communications seem suspicious, whom they can then track with more intrusive techniques such as phone-tapping, Le Monde wrote.

The Guardian newspaper reported last month that Britain had a similar spying program on international phone and Internet traffic and was sharing vast quantities of personal information with the American NSA. [ID:nL5N0EX3JA]

(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Kevin Liffey)

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