The report centers on the Echelon system, a Cold War-era surveillance network operated by the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Britain. It concludes that U.S. intelligence officials colluded with top American tech firms, including Microsoft and IBM, in operating the system and sifting through the vast amount of information it intercepts daily. Upon hearing the E.C. report, French justice minister Elisabeth Guigou complained vociferously, encouraging French businesses to encrypt any sensitive information transmitted over phone lines or satellites.
The reaction strikes some as hypocritical. "There's a lot of lip service being given in France to the principle that an ally would spy on an ally," says TIME Paris bureau chief Thomas Sancton, "but since all these countries are doing it, the only thing that's different here is the magnitude of America's satellite network." But the simple fact that the Parliament was willing to accept the report prompting U.S.-fearing headlines across the continent highlights a growing unease with American dominance of the technology sector. "The English-speaking world is seen through French eyes, and to an extent through the eyes of the other European nations, as a threat to the survival of European languages and cultures," says Sancton. "English dominates the Internet and this spying case is seen as America having the ability to vacuum up information from all over Europe and using it to extend that dominance."