Obama seeks to reassure Hollande amid bugging scandal

National Security Agency eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France

US president Barack Obama: spoke to French president Francois Hollande last night over revelations of bugging by the NSA. Photograph: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

US president Barack Obama: spoke to French president Francois Hollande last night over revelations of bugging by the NSA. Photograph: Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 09:00

US president Barack Obama sought to reassure French president Francois Hollande about the countries’ relations after a report that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France.

The two leaders spoke by phone yesterday to discuss US intelligence gathering, according to a White House statement.

The call took place amid outrage in France stirred by a Le Monde report that US authorities had intercepted millions of bits of telecommunications data in France.

An NSA graphic among documents stolen by the former NSA subcontractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the US intercepted three million French telephone data daily, sometimes up to seven million, from December 10th, 2012, until January 8th, 2013, for 70.3 million recordings. Equipment is programmed to record all calls to or from certain numbers, and to keep a log of all traffic on those lines, Le Monde reported.

The use of key words triggers the recording of text messages.

“The president and President Hollande discussed recent disclosures in the press - some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies about how these capabilities are employed,” the White House said in its statement.

The call marked the latest instance of tensions with allies stoked by revelations about US surveillance activities.

The Le Monde report led the Foreign Ministry in Paris to summon the US ambassador yesterday.

“This type of practice between partners that intrudes on the private sphere is totally unacceptable,” French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Luxembourg yesterday. “We have to see to it very quickly that this practice ceases.”

Mr Fabius is due to hold talks today with US secretary of state John Kerry, who was in Paris for talks yesterday with Arab foreign ministers on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Mr Kerry said he and his French counterpart will discuss the surveillance issue just as they work closely on other matters.

‘Very Challenging’

While saying he could not comment on US intelligence activities, Mr Kerry said yesterday that “lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens and the world.”

He added: “Protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task and it is an every day, 24-7-365 task, unfortunately, because it there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people.”

Mr Obama told the United Nations General Assembly that the US is reviewing how it conducts its electronic intelligence activities, Mr Kerry said.

During their phone call, Mr Obama told Mr Hollande that the US is reviewing its intelligence-gathering practices, “so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share,” the White House said in its statement.

Allegations based on data provided by Mr Snowden, who was granted asylum by Russia as he faces espionage charges in the US, have stirred tensions between the US and countries including Germany and Brazil.

Mexico’s government condemned the alleged hacking of the email account of then-president Felipe Calderon in 2010, saying such actions are unacceptable and violate international law.

Bloomberg

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