Intelligence in Democracies -- International repository of legal safeguards and oversight innovation


Although intelligence services are globally connected worldwide, the exchange of information and knowledge regarding their governance and control under the rule of law is still limited. Yet, it is precisely in this area, which is so crucial for security policy, that it is important to examine the practices and laws of other democratic countries. However, many people find it very difficult to maintain an overview in this complex field. In addition to different structures and language barriers, it is also in the nature of things that intelligence laws, including the oversight mechanisms, are often incomprehensible. 

A comprehensive study published in 2018 by the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung and the Heinrich Böll Foundation provided an important impetus for developing a better overview of good supervisory practices in various democratic countries. The practices from 13 democracies listed there show that exemplary democratic control is certainly compatible with functioning intelligence services. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Prof. Joe Cannataci, further recommends: „The competent authorities in Member States when contemplating the use of bulk powers for surveillance, should first examine, then prioritise and adopt to the greatest possible extent, the measures for introducing the good practices that are recommended in the compendium of Stiftung Neue Verantwortung“ (A/HRC/40/63).

Drawing on this compendium and further updates since then, the online repository presents good practices that, by comparison, stand out as being more balanced or more innovative responses to the many thorny challenges that ought to be met. It thus features a wide range of high-water marks from different national surveillance regimes. It shows that each nation – despite constitutional and political differences, and irrespective of individual reform trajectories – has a lot to learn from its international partners. These practices, we believe, should be widely promoted, for they increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of a controversial practice that is here to stay. 

The website aims to provide a public good and hopes to provide a service to a wide range of actors, including oversight professionals, subject matter experts in parliament, and various ministries, journalists, scientists, as well as the interested public. It intendeds to make intelligence oversight, bulk surveillance mandates, and ways to write safeguards and restrictions into the law more accessible and transparent. The easy juxtaposition between the different countries and the highlighted good practices will provide advocates of more effective oversight with good arguments to consolidate intelligence accountability in Europe and render it more professional.