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    Why Is the Headquarters of France’s PRISM Blurred on Google Maps?

    Written by

    Meghan Neal

    contributing editor

    How very French. While outrage mounts in the European Union over the NSA PRISM scandal, France somehow failed to mention it's been running a very similar surveillance program of its own. 

    The French newspaper Le Monde revealed yesterday that France’s intelligence and national security agency, the DGSE (Directorate-General for External Security), is snooping on citizens' phone calls, emails and social media communications, looking for suspicious activity.

    Tens of millions of gigabytes of data are reportedly stored in a huge underground bunker at the agency’s headquarters in Paris. Though the report claimed this “French Big Brother” is illegal, the government has denied any wrongdoing. If there’s really nothing to hide, why is the DGSE headquarters blurred out on Google maps?

    It seems like a curious move. Wouldn’t blurring out just one specific spot just bring more attention to it, a la the Streisand Effect? Maybe. But Google's been censoring sensitive locations that could be security risks at the request of governments ever free satellite imagery became available in 2005.

    It does this using a handful of handy visual tricks—like pixelating, overexposing and cloning the imagery. Other times, governments will opt to show out of date or really low-res images, so as to not draw attention to the location, but also hide the details from would-be terrorists. Maybe that’s what the NSA is doing; a little virtual espionage showed it's Maryland headquarters are in plain view on Google. But the DGSE—known as “the firm” in France—opted to go full incognito.

    According to Le Monde, the external intelligence agency is collecting metadata to track who is talking to who, in France and internationally, and is sharing the data with the other seven intelligence agencies in France. All the while the EU Parliament just voted to conduct an in-depth investigation into US surveillance, and European businesses are threatening to sever ties with US internet providers.

    France's top security official even took the opportunity as a guest at the American Ambassador's Fourth of July party yesterday to "directly and frankly" denounce US "espionage" in France. Ceux dans des maisons de verre ne devraient pas jeter des pierres, people. Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.