France's Government spies on its own citizens in the same way as the United States, it was claimed yesterday.
All phone calls, emails, texts, faxes and internet searches are monitored by the French security service - the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE) - according to a report in the newspaper Le Monde. The practice is illegal.
The epicentre of the spying operation is a three-storey underground bunker in Paris at the DGSE's headquarters on Boulevard Mortier. The building contains a "super-calculator capable of managing tens of millions of gigaoctets of information".
The French authorities do not note the content of the communications, the newspaper claims, but are interested in establishing links between known figures in a terrorist network.
"The politicians know about it, but secrecy is the rule: this French Big Brother is clandestine," wrote Jacques Follorou and Franck Johannes. "It is out of control."
The series of revelations will be highly embarrassing to President Francois Hollande, who expressed outrage at US interception of French communications. "We can't accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies," he said last week. "We ask that this immediately stop."
The US has proposed holding talks on Monday "on the collection and oversight of intelligence, and questions of privacy and data protection", in an attempt to quell the anger. Yet, as Manuel Valls, the Interior Minister, was telling guests at the American Ambassador's July 4 party in Paris that such spying was unacceptable, it was alleged that France was doing the same. France's National Commission for Information and Liberty denied that it was engaged in illicit work.
The activities are similar to those carried out by America's National Security Agency, as described in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now on the run from US authorities.
The documents revealed 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 the Prism programme. They also showed the US Government had gathered metadata - the time, duration and numbers called - on all telephone calls carried by service providers.
Such was his anger that Hollande threatened to pull out of negotiations on a transatlantic free-trade treaty. Germany, which was also shown to have been put under American surveillance, told the US: "We aren't in the Cold War any more."
The European Parliament in Strasbourg is to start an investigation into claims EU offices were bugged.