Orange to file suit over NSA cable intercept within days

Orange to file suit over NSA cable intercept within days

Summary: The French telco is planning legal action to discover whether or not the NSA intercepted its customer data.


French telco Orange is to take legal action following allegations that the US National Security Agency intercepted data on a submarine cable it uses to transport data from France to Africa and Asia.

Orange's planned lawsuit comes in response to details of efforts by the NSA to tap the SeaMeWe 4 (SMW-4) submarine cable, which carries internet traffic between Marseille in France, Sicily, North Africa, the Gulf states, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

According to NSA internal documents seen by German news outlet Spiegel Online, in February 2013 the NSA's high-end hacker squad within its Tailored Access Operations unit employed a "website masquerade operation" to gain access to the SMW-4 consortium's management website, and collected network data that showed the circuit mapping for significant portions of the network.

The paper suggests the techniques the NSA used to gain access were likely drawn from its QUANTUMINSERT method, which rely on spoofing LinkedIn profile pages of targets.

Orange said in a statement it had no involvement in the NSA's alleged spying activity on the SMW-4 cable, adding although it is a user of the submarine cable it is not involved in its management.

"Orange has no involvement and is totally unaware of any of the operations that were allegedly carried out on the SeaMeWe 4 submarine cable," an Orange spokesperson said.

"Orange is a user of this equipment but plays no management role. If any interception did in fact take place, this could not have happened through the Orange network, which has not been subject to any such attack."

The spokesperson said that Orange will file suit shortly, which appears to be aimed at discovering whether or not the NSA tried to intercept Orange's customer data. 

Orange "is considering the different legal options available in the hypothesis that an attempt was indeed made to intercept data transported by Orange on this cable and will file suit in the next few days as a plaintiff," said the spokesperson.

"Orange reaffirms its commitment to privacy and data protection, and adheres fully to the conditions that are clearly defined and imposed by the law. No institution or state can choose to disregard these conditions."

As noted by Reuters, the French legal system permits a plaintiff to file a complaint without selecting a defendant, but the complaint can trigger an investigation and subsequent legal process.

Orange's planned legal action commences as document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal the extent of the NSA's reach over technology equipment and communications networks across the globe. Last week the NSA's TAO group was also fingered for embedding backdoors on routers and other equipment from nearly every major vendor, including Cisco, Juniper and Huawei.

Further reading

Topics: Networking, Privacy, Security, Telcos, EU

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • And how do they expect to prosecute the suit?

    Who are they going to sue? A U.S. federal agency? A French court won't have any jurisdiction. Do they expect the U.S. national government to just start handing over documents and making people available for deposition in response to French court subpoenas and orders? Are they going to sue in a U.S. court -- and be told that for national security reasons the court can't hear the case?

    Great idea -- suing! Yeah, right ...
    • The ICC and UN member-state supported sanctions

      USA is not the only world government. They cannot act on their neighbors without suffering some sort of consequence. Restricting trade and treaties seems to work for Palestine and Iran, don't they?
      • This may look arrogant, but...

        ...feel free to contact your elected representatives accordingly.

        I do think the NSA's wings are about to be clipped rather severely to address the ongoing backlash, but we should know in a few weeks how serious people really are (since a new session of Congress is due to open today).
        John L. Ries
  • Not my country, but...

    ...historically, the purpose of lawsuits has been to correct bad behavior, not to find out whether it occurred (that's what private investigators are for). It we start seeing lots of suits like this one, I would take it as an indication that discovery has gotten way out of hand.
    John L. Ries
    • I've said this before, but now looks like a good time to say it again

      One of the requirements for filing a lawsuit should be sufficient documentary evidence (including affidavits and/or depositions of witnesses) to establish the allegations made (it would then be the job of the defense to refute that evidence). If the docs are not there, the court should dismiss the case without prejudice.

      There should be almost no need for discovery, except to allow the defendant to determine how strong the plaintiff's case is; it's use by plaintiffs as an investigative/harassment tool is an abuse of the system and shouldn't be allowed.
      John L. Ries
      • Should have mentioned...

        ...I think such a requirement is reasonable in both common law and civil law jurisdictions (recognizing the France is the latter).
        John L. Ries