French lawmakers : from being spied on to blurred policies

Paris, 21 November 2013. Press release.

On Thursday, 21 November, the French digital newspaper Mediapart published an article on unauthorized access to the e-mails of some European Union lawmakers [fr] (subscription needed). Besides showing how weakly the security is implemented in e-mail servers of the European Parliament, this article denounces a lack of awareness among policy makers as regards the strategic and political importance of choosing the right IT office tools. April calls on the policy makers to seriously address the issue.

Notwithstanding recent revelations on the Prism scandal and the mass surveillance carried out by the NSA with help from some proprietary software publishers, none of the previous technical choices seems about to be reconsidered, whether at the European Parliament or in France.

The article points out that the security of Microsoft products and their use by public institutions have long been questionned by NGOs like April, as well as by experts. For instance, Mediapart interviewed Éric Filiol, an IT security specialist and former DGSE1 cryptoanalyst, who sums this up nicely: “Picking Microsoft is just like handing the keys over to the Americans.”

Mediapart also says that the French Parliament raised the issue in 2001 and published a report on surveillance and electronic interception systems threatening national security [fr] (the Echelon system). The report warns of backdoors that are found in some proprietary software. Mediapart adds that the French President François Hollande, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian were among the report writers in the Defence Committee.

The Mediapart article then describes the “Open Bar” contract between Microsoft and the French Ministry of Defence. It recalls that the working group of experts at the French Ministry of Defence advised against signing such a contract. In April 2013, the satirical (and investigative) newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that NATO and the NSA were at the wheel. April, which has been following this dossier for a long time, recently published three documents pointing out that the choice of an Open Bar contract follows up on a political decision obviously taken before any study on feasability and risks was carried out.

“Ever since the “Open Bar” scandal was revealed, the Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has remained silent,” adds Jeanne Tadeusz, April's Public Affairs Officer. “Two parliamentary questions, one from Deputy Jean-Jacques Candelier [fr] and another from Deputy Isabelle Attard [fr], remain unanswered. And so does our letter to the Minister of Defence, dating back February 2013, in which we were requesting the renegociations to be adjourned and transparency to be made on this matter.”

In its conclusion, the Mediapart article quotes a few words from Frédéric Couchet, the Executive Director of April: “The State is supported by our taxes and Free Software should be one of the aspects of public service. I hope this is going to be one of the topics of the European election campaign. Unfortunately, IT is not considered a social issue. Despite what has been revealed, it seems that they don't give a damn...”

“We hope that highlighting these scandals will give public entities an opportunity to overhaul their policies as regards software choices and to establish effective policies in favour of Free Software,”, stated Frédéric Couchet.

We advise you to read the complete Mediapart article [fr].

About April

A Pioneer of Free Software in France since 1996, April is a major player in the democratisation of Free Software and open standards, and in their spread to the general public, professionals and institutions of the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information and knowledge by private interests.

The organisation is a non-profit and it has over 3,600 members, who use or produce Free Software.

For more information, you may visit, contact us by phone at +33 1 78 76 92 80, or use our contact form.

Press contact:

Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs Officer, +33 1 78 76 92 82

Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director, +33 6 60 68 89 31

  • 1. DGSE: French Directorate-General for External Security.