July 13, 2013 (TSR- Reuters) – Two French human rights groups filed a legal complaint on Thursday targeting the U.S. National Security Agency, the FBI and seven technology companies they say may have helped the United States snoop on French citizens’ emails and phone calls.
The complaint, which denounces U.S. spying methods revealed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, is filed against “persons unknown” but names Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Paltalk, Facebook, AOL and Apple as “potential accomplices” of the NSA and FBI.
Media reports that the United States has eavesdropped on European Internet users and embassies under a surveillance program named Prism have soured EU-U.S. relations, just as talks are starting on a transatlantic free trade pact.
“This blatant intrusion into individuals’ lives represents a serious threat to individual liberties and, if not stopped, may lead to the end of the rule of law,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Human Rights League (LDH) said in a statement.
The complaint was filed with a Paris civil court, and a prosecutor will now decide whether to open an investigation. If the prosecutor declines to do so, the plaintiffs can still ask an investigating magistrate to look into the case.
The complaint cites “fraudulent access to an automated data processing system, collection of personal data by fraudulent means, wilful violation of the intimacy of private life and the use and conservation of recordings and documents obtained through such means”.
While the complaint alleges that the NSA and FBI bear the bulk of responsibility in setting up Prism, it suggests the U.S. companies may have provided them with the technical means to access their servers and collect personal data and content.
The rights groups said French laws had been violated and called for a judicial investigation into the reports on U.S. surveillance that appeared in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the Washington Post and German news magazine Der Spiegel.
The NSA and the Justice Department declined to comment on the complaint. The FBI and Yahoo did not respond to requests for comment.
Representatives for Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, AOL and Paltalk declined to comment specifically, but referred to previous statements saying they did not give any government agency direct access to their servers and only provided user information in accordance with the law.
Le Monde reported last week that France’s external intelligence agency, the DGSE, runs its own vast electronic surveillance operation, intercepting and stocking data from citizens’ phone and internet activity using similar methods to the NSA’s Prism programme exposed by Snowden. The paper said rights groups were considering possible legal action over illegal French surveillance tactics.
This week lawyers acting for the UK charity Privacy International filed a legal challenge against British and US spy programmes that allow intelligence agencies to gather, store and share data on millions of people.
They also demanded a temporary injunction to the Tempora programme, which allows Britain’s spy centre GCHQ to harvest millions of emails, phone calls and Skype conversations from the undersea cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country. They said the laws being used to justify mass data-trawling were being abused by intelligence officials and ministers, and needed to be urgently reviewed.