Report: French officials skirt BlackBerry limits

Despite warnings by French national defense authorities that their messages might be monitored on American servers by the National Security Agency, some officials are reportedly still using the smartphones in secret.

Apparently even dire warnings about the threat of snooping by American spies aren't enough to keep some top French government officials from nursing CrackBerry addictions on the sly.

CNET Networks

According to a report to be published in Wednesday's edition of the French newspaper Le Monde, bureaucrats continue to lament--and in some cases, quietly ignore--a warning dispatched 18 months ago from the head of France's national defense agency. Reissued recently, the notice reportedly bars certain categories of government officials from using their Research in Motion BlackBerries to circulate sensitive government information.

French security officials are still working on finding an alternative tool, but it hasn't been easy, the story said.

Meanwhile, an unnamed member of the prime minister's cabinet admitted that after one failed attempt at replacing the devices with something else, certain people have opted to continue using the smartphones "in secret." A secretary to one cabinet minister griped that it has become necessary for officials to "relearn" how to cope with older technologies.

Alain Juillet, a senior official in charge of economic intelligence for the French government, justified the plan by saying the BlackBerry poses "a problem of data security."

The rules came about because some of the main BlackBerry mail servers reside in the United States, where French security officials fear the messages are vulnerable to being swept up and perused by none other than the National Security Agency, according to the Le Monde report.

"The risks of interception are real," Juillet was quoted as saying.

Restrictions on BlackBerry use aren't unique to France. The Australian government also prohibits agencies from using the devices to transmit confidential, secret or top secret information--or with systems that involve such categories of data.