France Has A PRISM-Like Program With Millions Of Trillions Of Metadata Elements

Sacrebleu! The NSA isn’t the only security agency that’s collecting data. In fact, France’s PRISM-like program is going very strong with millions of trillions of metadata elements stored in a Parisian basement, according to a report from French newspaper Le Monde. The program targets phone communications, emails and data from Internet giants, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo! It is deemed illegal by the CNIL, the French data protection authority, but it is not as clear as it seems.

At least eight deputies and senators know about the program but they have been sworn to secrecy. They mention 2008 as a pivotal year for the DGSE (General Directorate for External Security), which could be the starting point of the unnamed surveillance program. The DGSE entirely designed the program and no data protection representative is overseeing it.

As is the case with PRISM, the agency only collects metadata elements — a call history, recipients and sizes of text messages, email subjects, as well as all your activity on services operated by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Apple. With a single query, French authorities can list your contacts. For each contact, they know how frequently you talked and what communication channel you are using.

For phone data, the DGSE uses electromagnetic technologies to collect the metadata. The caller’s location is recorded as well. That’s why a former DGSE official claims that the program isn’t illegal. It doesn’t actually record your calls. The DGSE is on the fringe of illegality.

In the basement of DGSE’s headquarters, a three-story high supercomputer handles this flow of information. The computer even heats up the entire building, according to Le Monde. It could be the second biggest supercomputer in Europe behind the one in London.

So far, the French government hasn’t reacted or provided a statement. While European Union representatives — including French president François Hollande — were deeply worried by the NSA/PRISM controversy, it appears that the U.K. and now France use the same methods to collect data.

(Image credit: Victoria Pickering)