Jacques Follorou, *Le Monde*
This was an investigation that we carried out following the revelations concerning the PRISM system. In France, unlike the US or the UK, all the technical means that are available for intercepting electronic signals are not separately stored as they are for example in GCHQ or the NSA. But these technological means, these resources, are actually in the hands of the DGSE, which is the [French intelligence service](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directorate-General_for_External_Security), which is supposed to be working outside French borders.
They hold these technologies and over three years 2005 to 2007 this intelligence service was granted a huge amount of technological resources. These were financed by the Parliament in the context of a technological update, which is what it was called, an update of the means France has to intercept electronic signals when it comes to improving the sovereignty of intelligence gathering which is done in France.
I'll come back to the reasons why France made problems for itself when it equipped itself with these technologies. For us the big issue is scrutiny. This database, unlike what we're told officially, is storing billions of data for years. It's not just a database which is exclusively used by the intelligence services which operate outside France. Inside France there is a system which is able to tap into this huge database which is currently run by the largest computer server in France.
That means that other intelligence services in France are able to intervene and tap into this database and they are operating on French territory. Daily checks are being carried out by these services that nobody knew about before. Today, the Counter Intelligence Service or the Customs authorities or the Track Fin authorities - which are involved with investigating financial crimes - can get in touch with the intelligence services DGSE and get information on any individual.
These could be people who have been involved in terrorist actions or who are terrorists themselves, that's possible. But we're working on the principle that the person requesting the information is acting within the law. There is no other validation of the research done or the compiling of this data or the way in which its stored.
So you have a kind of parallel system here which is entirely without proper scrutiny and is really in the same vein as the revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding the PRISM system. An intelligence service now has the means to carry out massive interception and storage of personal data and there is no real scrutiny.
Now of course in France there is legislation in place which originally focused on phone interceptions and there are even bodies that have to be consulted by the police or other services when they want to start tapping people's telephone calls and so on. This is known as the CNCES in France, this body. But when it comes to meta data, the data stored by DGSE, CNCES doesn't have either the personnel or the administrative capacity - or even the right - to be working in consultation on that or to know what is happening to that metadata.
These revelations came out in July and paradoxically there wasn't much of a reaction, which is why it is important and meaningful for us to be able to speak to you today. In a country like France where there is a strong centralised state - we've got the Fifth Republic now - but generally people do not seem to think it's strange that a state has these means to carry out these activities. People think it's normal.
We think that's a bit poor in terms of counterestablishment or antiestablishment power and the discussion so far has really been technological discussion on the means the DGSE actually have to intercept signals. People have been focusing on that rather than focusing on the law or focusing on the extent of scrutiny held by the Parliament or more basic things like citizens' freedoms and the rights they should hold when protecting their private data, or the data of companies.
Here we are now talking to you at the European Parliament. You have set up a Committee of Inquiry to look into this. If the Parliament takes this so seriously, the sad thing is that it is not the Parliament that is going to be able to take action to roll some of this back and protect people's rights and privacy. If you look at the reaction to these revelations and the PRISM revelations... you can see that each country reacts in its own way. In America there's obviously more money behind the different reactions but in Europe it has been rather meagre.
If France were to step up to the plate and start throwing more serious arguments against America then you might have Washington responding in a more robust way.
We are interested in how this is panning out. We were looking at the French compiling of data and the storage of these data and also looking at the possibility of agreement between the different intelligence services that exist in France and the agreements between them and the telephone operators SFR, Bouygues, Orange... We don't know if these agreements exist as the agreements were found between NSA and other major operators about the capacity to access all traffic.
So there are many questions still that we need to have answers for. There was a Parliamentary delegation for information which is responsible for trying to exercise scrutiny over the French intelligence services. This is a fairly new body, they've only been in place since 2007 and they have restricted means open to them. For example, they are only allowed to speak to the directors of the French intelligence services and their communication powers are very limited. The members of the delegation are important people - the chairman of the defence committee, for example, the chairman of the justice committee... they're very busy people anyway so they haven't got much time to dedicate to this particular scrutiny committee or delegation.
As a journalist, what I'm really struck by here is the way in which the different political stakeholders in France have reacted. The French Members of Parliament have basically accepted the idea that government should have these powers. They are somehow giving their consent to this encroachment of their powers and as journalists that's really what's shocked us. We see this again and again.
Lots of people say 'It's not that serious' or 'it's not that important', but when we speak to government representatives who for example work closely with the French President or the French Prime Minister, or even people who are high ranking officials in the intelligence services - these people who perhaps accept that debate per se, they will say again and again, 'you're worrying about nothing. At the end of the day the people who are responsible for massive interception of data, these people are defenders of our Republic.'
And maybe it's true. People working for the intelligence services, most of them really are interested in democracy. The point is that people who are responsible for these competencies, they're true Republicans, they're French Republicans and they will not betray their country and these amazing technologies are safe within the hands of these people, that's what we're told again and again. But these are matters of principle and that's why the law is so important.
The point is that these technologies could all, at any moment, be used for other purposes encroaching on peoples private lives and so on. We don't know what they're going to be used for. We saw under Sarkozy that there were incidences where law could be bypassed to protect individual interests. The problem then is that people are acting outside the law.
As journalists we also have an interest in citizenship and calling the establishment to account. That doesn't mean we're being militant about it but we have a role to play. We've got to keep people on their toes and be vigilant. We hope the work being done here in Brussels will alert people to what is going on. I'm a little pessimistic as to what will happen in France though.
*More on Le Monde reporting (original pieces are behind paywall)*