PARIS: The United States (US) has become embroiled in a new row over its controversial spying program as allies France and Mexico condemned revelations Washington tapped millions of phonecalls and hacked into leaders’ e-mails.
French President Francois Hollande on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) expressed his “deep disapproval” of reports of United States spying in a phone call with President Barack Obama.
France’s Le Monde newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had secretly monitored 70.3 million phone communications in France over 30 days from December 10, 2012, to January 8 this year.
The allegations, the latest from leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also marred a visit to Paris by US Secretary of State John Kerry, where he discussed moves to try to end the war in Syria.
At the same time, German weekly Der Spiegel reported the NSA had also hacked into former Mexican president Felipe Calderon’s email account.
Calderon, on Twitter, described the revelations as an “affront to the institutions of the country, given that it took place when I was president.”
Hollande told Obama that the alleged practices were “unacceptable between friends and allies because they infringe on the privacy of French citizens,” the French leader’s office said in a statement.
The allegations come on top of previous revelations by Snowden—who has sought safety in Russia as US authorities pursue him for leaking classified information—that the United States had a vast, secret program called Prism to monitor Internet users.
French prosecutors are already investigating the program, and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was “deeply shocked” by the new revelations.
“It’s incredible that an allied country like the United States at this point goes as far as spying on private communications that have no strategic justification, no justification on the basis of national defense,” he told journalists.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, on a visit to Luxembourg, said US ambassador Charles Rivkin was summoned to his ministry early Monday.
“These kinds of practices between partners that harm privacy are totally unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding France needed assurances that the United States was no longer monitoring its communications.
His comments were relayed to the US ambassador during the meeting, a ministry spokesman said—the second time in less than four months that America’s top representative in France has been hauled in over revelations about US snooping.
Kerry refused to comment on the specific accusations, but noted that Washington was reviewing its intelligence gathering operations following protests from allied governments.
He also sought to defend the US position.
“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,” Kerry said at a press conference after meeting Arab League officials.
“Lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens in the world,” he said. “Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the privacy and security of our citizens.”
According to Le Monde, the spy agency automatically picked up communications from certain phone numbers in France and recorded certain text messages under a program code-named “US-985D.”
The French daily said the documents gave grounds to believe that the NSA targeted not only people suspected of being involved in terrorism but also high-profile individuals in business and politics.
Hollande’s office said the French president and Obama had agreed “to work together to determine the facts and the exact scope of surveillance activities,” revealed by Le Monde.
Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist now living in Brazil who has broken many of the recent stories about secret US surveillance programs, says Washington has spied on all Latin American countries.