European Intelligence Oversight Network (EION)

The intensity of European intelligence cooperation has grown and deepened significantly over the past few years. New technology and transnational threats prompt closer working relations and extensive data sharing among intelligence and security agencies. They maintain numerous institutions, networks, and databases for collaboration and intelligence sharing with partner services in Europe and beyond. 

By contrast, the practice of intelligence oversight remains almost exclusively a domestic affair. To date, there are few effective institutions for international oversight cooperation. Rather, national overseers adhere, by and large, to strict national confines when they perform their authorization, review, and control activities.

No intelligence cooperation without effective oversight cooperation

Fragmented oversight undermines the democratic legitimacy of government surveillance measures. If oversight bodies do not cooperate effectively with their European peers, compliance with basic human rights and data protection rules as well as the effectiveness of intelligence cooperation cannot be independently assessed. New forms and instruments of collaborative and more effective intelligence oversight are urgently needed in Europe. EION seeks to support a more concerted effort among oversight officials, lawmakers, and practitioners to find new solutions to pressing problems of transnational data sharing and emerging technologies for data collection and data analysis.

Our goal: Support and challenge intelligence oversight bodies across Europe

Many European governments have adopted new intelligence laws over the past few years since the Snowden revelations. But these reforms could not appease the widely held concerns about insufficient protections for human rights such as privacy and freedom of expression. As a result, various legal actions were filed before both national and European courts that challenge the constitutionality of intelligence legislation. With these lawsuits pending, the quest for more robust and more efficient legal safeguards and oversight practice is far from over. 

What is more, oversight professionalism and a genuine European oversight capacity cannot be obtained through legislation alone. Even the best laws must be implemented in a sound and effective way in order to realize their full potential. Among other challenges, overseers have to adapt to new responsibilities and control mandates, limited resources, heightened media attention, and technological evolution.

Against this backdrop, the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung created the European Intelligence Oversight Network (EION) in 2018. It offers European intelligence oversight officials and civil society experts a space for regular and structured exchange on complex challenges.

Our method: Workshops based on tailor-made position papers

The core of EION are annual workshops in which participants discuss practical challenges and solutions. Every workshop is carefully prepared and focuses on either one comparative issue of national oversight or one specifically transnational oversight challenge. A discussion paper that outlines the key aspects and hypotheses for each workshop is circulated within the network in advance. To stimulate discussion with novel ideas, selected high-level experts are also invited to each workshop.

Topics of past workshops were (1) the identification of good practice in the oversight of bulk collection of communications data and (2) innovative control instruments for more effective authorization procedures and ex-post data protection audits. EION strives to regularly provide oversight officials with expert analysis, practice-oriented impulses, and a constructive forum for critical debate.

Past workshops
First EION Workshop May 2018

Second EION Workshop May 2019

Our topics

The EION project team pre-selects and tests relevant topics that merit critical discussion within the group of national overseers. Core themes of the European Intelligence Oversight Network include:

  • Good practice in legal safeguards, oversight innovation, and transparency
  • Oversight of international intelligence cooperation and data-sharing arrangements
  • The use of technology for more effective reviews of data processing and judicial control mechanisms (e.g. audits of advanced data analysis techniques and data minimization techniques)
  • Peer-to-peer evaluation of intelligence oversight methodologies and oversight performance across Europe
  • The design of multilateral oversight of joint databases in Europe
  • Identifying safeguards for the use of open source intelligence (OSINT) and social media intelligence (SOCMINT).

Participating oversight bodies

We seek to both support and challenge intelligence oversight bodies and have scheduled new workshops and publications for 2020. Thus far, our network includes individuals from oversight bodies such as:

Should you or your organization consider a future participation in our activities, kindly contact Thorsten Wetzling or Kilian Vieth by e-mail.