Joint statement from the Belgian, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian & Swiss spy oversight bodies: “Strengthening oversight of international data exchange between intelligence and security services”

The intelligence oversight bodies in five European countries today announced a “new form of cooperation” via a joint statement (.pdf; mirror) that was signed in Bern (CH) by the five heads of national oversight on 22 October 2018. The participants are:

  • 🇧🇪 Belgium: Belgian Standing Intelligence Agencies Review Committee
    • Locally known as `Comité permanent de contrôle des services de renseignements et de sécurité’ (French) and `Vast Comité van Toezicht op de inlichtingen- en veiligheidsdiensten’ (Dutch)
    • Website: http://www.comiteri.be/
  • 🇩🇰 Denmark: Danish Intelligence Oversight Board
  • 🇳🇱 Netherlands: Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services
    • Locally known as `Commissie van Toezicht op de Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdiensten’ (CTIVD)
    • Website: https://www.ctivd.nl/
  • 🇳🇴 Norway: EOS Committee – The Norwegian Parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee
  • 🇨🇭 Switzerland: Independent Oversight Authority for Intelligence Activities (OA-IA)
    • Locally known as `Unabhängige Aufsichtsbehörde über die nachrichtendienstlichen Tätigkeiten’ (AB-ND)
    • Website: https://www.ab-nd.admin.ch/

According to the statement, it:

  • Describes their project, “which entailed each of them conducting an investigation into their respective countries’ services’ use of information regarding foreign terrorist fighters and sharing our methods, best practices and experiences.”
  • Addresses the challenges they met “when overseeing international data exchange, including the risk of an oversight gap when intelligence and security services cooperate internationally.”
  • Identifies ways to “move forward towards strengthening oversight cooperation, for example through minimizing secrecy between oversight bodies so that certain information can be shared, in order to improve our oversight of international data exchange.”

The challenges to international oversight that are mentioned (and explained) in the statement:

  • “Oversight does not cross national borders”: oversight is limited to national mandates, hence does not have a framework that provides possibilities for international cooperation / matching / comparison / benchmarking.
  • “The challenge of cooperation in the face of secrecy”: speaks for itself.
  • “Assessment of necessity and proportionality”: this can vary depending on, for instance, how different countries interpret and evaluate these; which can include difference is use of margins of appreciation that nation states have under international law with regard to the concept of national security.
  • “Some countries differentiate between citizens and foreigners”: speaks for itself.
  • “Means and methods of data exchange”: informal vs formal, and differences in how exchange takes place in practice.

The most important parts (IMHO, are these paragraphs from the section “5. Oversight of international data exchange – moving forward” (bold emphasis is mine):

“[…]

Due to technological development and increased cooperation, the data exchange between intelligence and security services is intensifying, resulting in an increase of the number of individual data exchanges. The sheer volume of data exchanged may become a challenge in itself. To assess the legitimacy and quality of each individual exchange can become an overwhelming task for the oversight bodies. In addition to conducting spot checks, it is becoming increasingly important to assess the system and framework for data exchange and the existence and functioning of safeguards for the protection of fundamental rights.

To do this effectively, oversight bodies will need to develop new methods. One way forward may be to increasingly use computerized automation and tools developed for conducting oversight of large volumes of data. In order to achieve this, oversight bodies need to expand their IT expertise and knowledge of the services’ systems. Another way to facilitate a more effective oversight would be to take the needs of the oversight bodies into account when the services implement new systems and to strengthen mechanisms of internal and external control.

The oversight bodies of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland will continue to exchange methods and best practices, as well as discuss international challenges to oversight, and the best approaches to overcoming these challenges. We invite oversight bodies from other countries to join us in our efforts to limit the risk of an oversight gap and to improve oversight of international data exchange between intelligence and security services.

 

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