BY LAUREN C. WILLIAMS POSTED ON JUNE 24, 2015 AT 1:06 PM -
CREDIT: THOMAS SAMSON, AP
New WikiLeaks documents show the U.S. National Security Agency spied on the private communications of three French presidents, angering the French government and adding strain to an already tenuous Europe-American relationship.
French news site Mediapart first published the documents Tuesday, which cover NSA activity from 2006 to 2012, and were part of the original WikiLeaks provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. That news quickly drew the ire of French President François Hollande, who called an emergency meeting Wednesday with the U.S. ambassador and government attorneys.
“France will not tolerate actions that threaten its security and the protection of its interests,” Hollande said in a statement Wednesday. “These are unacceptable facts that have already been the subject of clarification between the US and France, notably at the end of 2013 when the first revelations were made and during a state visit by the president of the Republic to the United States in February 2014. Commitments were made by the US authorities. They need to be recalled and strictly respected.”
The White House has denied the spying allegations, saying via a statement Wednesday:
We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande. Indeed, as we have said previously, we do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike. We work closely with France on all matters of international concern, and the French are indispensable partners.
Spying on friendly and enemy governments alike isn’t a new occurrence and is widely practiced, the U.S. is generally more brazen about it. German lawmakers accused its own intelligence agencies earlier this year of violating German regulations and gathering information in European targets for the NSA.
The new Snowden-derived information comes as trust in U.S. government wanes domestically and overseas. Only a quarter of Americans trust the government always or most of the time, according to a 2014 Pew Research survey. When it comes to foreign relations, only 43 percent are at least fairly confident in how the U.S. handles international matters, Gallup found.
This week’s WikiLeaks also follows news that Germany folded its investigation into the NSA’s spying practices after documents surfaced in 2013 indicating the agency spied on Chanecellor Angela Merkel’s personal communications.
But public disclosing of what should be clandestine movements fuels international sentiment of American government’s disregard for civilian privacy. “We find it hard to understand or imagine what motivates an ally to spy on allies who are often on the same strategic positions in world affairs,” Stéphane Le Foll, a French government spokesman told iTELE television.
Negative global perception of the NSA’s actions could also affect how the U.S. does business overseas. European regulators have already begun investigating tech companies’ potential wrongdoing by participating in NSA surveillance programs. The Court of Justice of the European Union is hearing a case involving Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo, for potential privacy law violations. The decision could seriously damage the U.S.-European relationship by deterring companies from doing business through stricter regulations.
Facebook’s European public policy director Richard Allan warned legislators in April that imposing stringent regulations on tech companies would be bad for business stateside and abroad:
National regulators in a number of countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, appear to be initiating multiple, overlapping investigations of Facebook, revisiting basic questions about how our services work.
In effect, this would mark a return to national regulation. If it is allowed to stand, complying with EU law will no longer be enough; businesses will instead have to comply with 28 independently shifting national variants. They would have to predict the enforcement agenda in each country…
Facebook’s costs would increase, and people in Europe would notice new features arriving more slowly, or not at all. The biggest victims would be smaller European companies. The next big thing might never see the light of day.