The report in Le Monde, co-written by Glenn Greenwald, who originally revealed the surveillance program based on leaks from former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, found that when certain phone numbers were used, conversations were automatically recorded. The surveillance operation also gathered text messages based on key words, Le Monde reported.
"This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "We fully agree that we cooperate to fight terrorism. It is indispensable. But this does not justify that personal data of millions of our compatriots are snooped on."
Seeking to limit damage in relations with one of America's closest allies, Obama called Hollande late Monday and made clear the U.S. government is reviewing its intelligence-gathering "so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share," a White House statement said. The statement said some recent disclosures have "distorted our activities" while others have raised genuine concerns by other countries.
Earlier, the French government summoned U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin for answers. A statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Paris said Rivkin assured Alexandre Ziegler, chief of staff to Fabius, that "our ongoing bilateral consultations on allegations of information-gathering by U.S. government agencies would continue."
The level of the diplomatic consultation at the time between the U.S. ambassador and only an aide to Fabius suggested that France was modulating its response. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Paris early Monday for meetings on Middle East issues and could have been contacted immediately if it appeared relations were in deeper trouble. But the matter was subsequently elevated with Obama's phone call.
Hollande's office said later that the French leader asked Obama to make available all information on NSA spying of French communications.
Kerry would not confirm the newspaper account or discuss intelligence-gathering except to say: "Lots of countries are engaged in the activity of trying to protect their citizens in the world."