On Wednesday, France woke up to find that the National Security Agency had been snooping on the phones of its last three presidents.
Top secret documents provided by Wikileaks to two media outlets, Mediapart and Libération, showed that the NSA had access to confidential conversations of France’s highest ranking officials, including the country’s current president, François Hollande; the prime minister in 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault; and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.
Yet also today, the lower house of France’s legislature, the National Assembly, passed a sweeping surveillance law. The law provides a new framework for the country’s intelligence agencies to expand their surveillance activities. Opponents of the law were quick to mock the government for vigorously protesting being surveilled by one of the country’s closest allies while passing a law that gives its own intelligence services vast powers with what its opponents regard as little oversight. But for those who support the new law, the new revelations of NSA spying showed the urgent need to update the tools available to France’s spies.
Of course, the fact that the NSA is listening to the conversations of French presidents is not that surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the revelations in the past two years of NSA spying, nor is the idea that France might do the same to its allies. In 2013, the German newsmagazineDer Spiegel revealed that the U.S. government had targeted the cellphone of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel—so why not Hollande’s phone, too?
The response from the French government today was firm but predictable. Senior intelligence officials will travel to the U.S. to meet their counterparts in Washington, while the U.S. ambassador in Paris was summoned to the Elysee Palace. A similar scenario played out in 2013, when Le Monde published Snowden documents that revealed some of the extent of American surveillance in France. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said today that he wants a “code of conduct” to guide the relationship between France and the U.S. on intelligence activities—but the government demanded the exact same thing almost two years ago.
Never try to make any sense of politics.