Watching the Watchers: When Intelligence Sharing Leads to Human Rights Abuses

Intelligence sharing is important to fight organised crime, but - without adequate monitoring - it can also lead to human rights abuses. Liberties member CILD has launched a new campaign for greater transparency around government intelligence sharing.

Intelligence sharing is a human rights issue. Countries may indeed use secret intelligence sharing arrangements to circumvent international and domestic rules on direct surveillance. These arrangements can also lead to the exchange of information that can facilitate human rights abuses, particularly in countries with poor human rights records or weak rule of law.

National intelligence oversight bodies hold intelligence agencies accountable to the public by exercising scrutiny over the legality, propriety, effectiveness, and efficiency of the intelligence activities of their governments.

Are oversight bodies kept in the loop?

The Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights, which has already raised this issue before the UN Human Rights Committee, has joined Privacy International and more than 30 national human rights organisations in writing to national intelligence oversight bodies in over 40 countries, seeking information on the intelligence sharing activities of their governments.

The countries written to include the Five Eyes Alliance, which is a secretive, global surveillance arrangement between the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The letter was also sent to nearly all of the countries forming surveillance partnerships that have grown from the Five Eyes:

  • The Nine Eyes (the Five Eyes plus Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway)
  • The 14 Eyes (the Nine Eyes plus Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden)
  • The 43 Eyes (the 14 Eyes plus the 2010 members of the International Security Assistance Forces to Afghanistan)

Specifically, we are seeking more information about whether these national oversight bodies are informed about the intelligence sharing activities of their governments; if they are able to independently oversee the intelligence sharing activities of their governments; if they are able to access all relevant information about the intelligence sharing activities of their governments; if they are able to review decisions by their governments to share intelligence and/or conduct independent investigations into the intelligence sharing activities of their governments; and if they are able to cooperate with other oversight bodies to supervise the intelligence sharing activities of their governments.

The countries included in the campaign have until October 31 to respond.

A deadline of October 31, 2017, has been given for each national oversight body to respond. Privacy International has created an interactive map (above), which shows the countries included in the campaign and the national intelligence oversight bodies that have been contacted in each country. The map will be updated when responses are received.