PARIS -- Days after President François Hollande sternly told the United States to stop spying on its allies, Le Monde newspaper disclosed on Thursday that France has its own program of massive data collection, which sweeps up nearly all the data transmissions, including telephone calls, e-mails and social media activity, that come in and out of France.
Le Monde reported that the General Directorate for External Security does the same kind of collection of metadata as the American National Security Agency and Britain's GCHQ, but does so without clear legal authority.
The system is run with "complete discretion, at the margins of legality and outside all serious control," the newspaper said, describing it as "a-legal."
Nonetheless, the French data is available to the various police and security agencies of France, the newspaper reported, and the data is stored for an indeterminate period. The main interest of the agency, the paper said, is to trace who is talking to whom, when and from where and for how long, rather than in listening in to random conversations. But the French also record data from large American networks like Google and Facebook, the newspaper said.
Le Monde's report, which French officials would not comment on publicly, appeared to make some of the French outrage about the revelations of Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about the American data-collection program appear somewhat hollow.
But French officials did say privately on Thursday that there was a difference between data collection in the name of security and spying on allied nations and the European Union. While French officials have said that they do not spy on the American Embassy in France, American officials are skeptical of those reassurances, and have pointed out that France has an aggressive and amply financed espionage system of its own.
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said Thursday at the annual July 4 reception at the American ambassador's residence in Paris, that Mr. Hollande's demands for clear explanations about the reports of American spying were justified because "such practices, if proven, do not have their place between allies and partners." He said that "in the name of our friendship, we owe each other honesty."
Separately, in a statement, Mr. Valls said that France had received an asylum request from Mr. Snowden, but that it would be rejected.
The European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg to debate the Snowden disclosures, overwhelmingly passed a resolution that "strongly condemns the spying on E.U. representations," warned of its "potential impact on trans-Atlantic relations" and demanded "immediate clarification from the U.S. authorities on the matter."
The legislators rejected an amendment calling for the postponement of talks scheduled for Monday on a potential European-American free-trade agreement. France and Mr. Hollande had called for the talks to be delayed, but the European Commission said that they would go ahead in parallel with talks on the American spying programs.
Many Europeans have been shocked and outraged less by the idea of American espionage than the sheer scale of the data-collection abroad. According to Mr. Snowden's data, between 15 million and 60 million transmissions are collected by the Americans every day from Germany alone.
American officials had privately warned French officials to be careful about speaking with too much outrage about American espionage given that major European countries like France spy, too, and not just on their enemies.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.