EU surveillance inquiry calls for stronger intelligence oversight

A European parliamentary conference has called on member states to improve the evaluation and oversight practices of their intelligence services

The rapporteur for the European parliament’s inquiry on electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens has called for stronger democratic oversight of intelligence activities.

Claude Moraes, who also chairs the parliament’s civil liberties committee, also called for improved co-operation between EU oversight bodies in response to an increase in the exchange of information and co-operation internationally, between EU member states and beyond.

He was speaking in Brussels at the close of the first Conference on the Democratic Oversight of Intelligence Services, which was co-hosted by the European parliament and the national parliaments of Germany, Italy and Belgium.

The conference was aimed at discussing the challenges that democratic oversight bodies are facing in the digital age and to share best practice on overcoming these challenges.

The conference highlighted the strategic importance of intelligence and security services for the security of the democratic constitutional state, as well as the need for parliamentary oversight to ensure respect of fundamental rights and liberties, and the efficiency of these services.

"Member states should improve the evaluation and oversight practices of their intelligence services – not to create more bureaucracy for intelligence services, but because all the evidence shows that better oversight will create more effective intelligence services which do their jobs better and are more accountable in a difficult and ever-changing security environment,” said Moraes.

He said one of the main conclusions of the inquiry into mass surveillance following the revelations by US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, was that there has been a systematic failure of intelligence services oversight in the US and in EU member states.

“We called for all member states to evaluate and revise their oversight practices to ensure that intelligence services are subject to improved parliamentary and judicial oversight,” said Moraes.

The European parliament, he said, is committed to developing a regular dialogue for the oversight bodies of member states to discuss best practice and minimum standards of intelligence oversight to ensure that EU intelligence services are operating within the rule of law. 

“We value our intelligence agencies for the unparalleled responsibility of protecting our citizens in the most difficult circumstances,” said Moraes.

“We are aware that ongoing threats and challenges such as so called ‘foreign fighters’, radicalisation and related security threats are challenging most EU countries. Such challenges require more, not less, co-operation between member states and EU agencies such as Europol."

As a result of the success of the conference, he said the co-hosts had agreed to a follow-up conference within the next two years.

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