The French are cynical when it comes to espionage, mainly because their services are at it, too. The indignation today is surprising, because political authorities know their communications are intercepted. All diplomats live with the certainty that their communications are tapped. The only rule in this game is that you don’t get caught.

The French 2015 Intelligence Act allows intelligence agencies to exercise their powers to

  • Protect national independence, the integrity of the territory, and provide for the national defense;
  • Defend major interests in foreign policy and the execution of France’s commitments to Europe and internationally;
  • Prevent all forms of foreign interference;
  • Defend the major economic, industrial and scientific interests of France;
  • Prevent terrorism;
  • Prevent attacks on the republican form of institutions;
  • Prevent actions for the maintenance or reorganization of banned groups, such as armed militias, terrorist organizations, or hate groups;
  • Prevent collective violence that greatly disrupts public peace;
  • Prevent crime and organized crime; and
  • Prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Techniques of communications surveillance include telephone or Internet wiretaps , access to identifying data and other metadata , geotagging  and computer network exploitation. Scanning devices (nicknamed "black boxes") can be installed on the infrastructures of telecom operators and hosting providers. For the sole purpose of preventing terrorism, automated processing techniques may be imposed on the networks of telecom operators and hosting providers in order to detect communications that are likely to reveal a terrorist threat. International communications defined as communications emitted from or received abroad, that is to say, going in or out of the country can be the object of surveillance.

While nothing prevents individual security agencies for spying on enemies, nothing prevents friendly intelligence services from spying on each other. There is nothing good and evil about spies and there is no legality of morality in espionage. The paradox of intelligence is based on the principle that while the core of espionage is deceit and treachery, the core of international law is respect and decency. But espionage is beyond the scope of the legal because it takes place in the shadows of international law and treaties.

Foreign policy and intelligence gathering are not ideal things in a world in which states pursue objectives based on self-interest. Countries that have been the targets of friendly intelligence agencies have usually swallowed their injured pride and moved on. Foreign policy based on so-called trust does not change the reality of espionage.

Key questions

  1. Is it normal for allied countries to spy on each other? Mutual spying is common knowledge. Spying is part of statecraft even between allies. States have interests, not Allies. Spying therefore, comes before relations between allies. All countries and all intelligence agencies, including those in Europe, spy on all other countries. The international system is, and always has been, inherently adversarial, even among allies. There is no guarantee that just because two countries are allies today, with numerous mutual interests, this will necessarily be the case tomorrow. The European outrage may be less about the spying crossing any moral line and more about the extent of the United States' intelligence dominance.
  2. Can the case of NSA/Danish Intelligence give Denmark problems in relation to cooperation with Germany, France and the Nordic countries? 
  3. Can US wiretapping continue after the report? 


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