'Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens and this work is going to continue as well as our very close consultations with our friends here in France, " an embarrassed US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted yesterday in Paris .
Deconstructing Mr Kerry, who echoed President Obama's recent comments on the Edward Snowden revelations on bugging of allies, a user-friendly version might run: "Ooops. Of course we listen to anyone we can listen to, allies included, just as their intelligence services do to us, although with less technical proficiency. We are, however, mortified at being caught and so will promise a 'review' of practices – not an ending, but perhaps a curtailing of their excesses. We remain committed to the friendliest of relations with France/ Mexico/ Germany/ Brazil . . . [Delete as appropriate]".
Le Monde's revelations that the US National Security Agency recorded 70.3 million items of French telephone data in a month at the end of last year and had mined tens of thousands of French phone and internet records, not just of suspected terrorists but people in business, politics and the administration, has provoked a predictable and justifiable uproar. The US ambassador was called in and read the riot act, and Presidents Hollande and Obama had what must have been a tetchy phone exchange.
Although Mr Hollande's indignation may have been amplified for domestic reasons, the bugging, which has provoked protests across Europe and Latin America, looks set to have consequences. Mr Hollande is to ask EU leaders at this week's summit to find ways to protect citizens' data. And in the European Parliament, after two years on the shelf, regulations on data protection standards have been revived. These could see multibillion-euro fines on US internet providers if they transfer data abroad in contravention to European law. The legislation is likely also to complicate already complex negotiations over a new transatlantic trade deal. So be it.