Who Guards the Guardians?
A new research project is investigating how democracies control intelligence services in their use of digital and transnational surveillance. GUARDINT is an international collaboration between the WZB, the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV), Sciences Po in Paris, King’s College London, and Lyon 3 University.
With communication and participation increasingly going digital in today’s society, our online behavior is rendered traceable. When Edward Snowden exposed the NSA, he not only brought the possibilities of mass data collection to light; he also provided evidence of their use by intelligence agencies in practice. At the same time, it transpired that digital surveillance was organized far more transnationally than commonly imagined. How can nationally organized oversight mechanisms counter international intelligence networks in order to monitor them and assure compliance with the law? In what ways do oversight bodies already work together on a transnational basis, and what gaps exist in this network?
The new research project “Oversight and intelligence networks: Who guards the guardians?” (GUARDINT) is investigating the potential and limitations for democratic control of intelligence services in their use of digital and transnational surveillance. GUARDINT is an international collaborative project between the WZB, the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, Sciences Po in Paris, King’s College London, and Lyon 3 University.
One of the interdisciplinary project’s goals is to use approaches from democratic theory and sociology to develop a theoretical foundation for the oversight of intelligence services. It will visualize where responsibility is located, as well as sketching information flows and responsibility gaps in them. At the same time, it will also develop practical instruments, such as an Intelligence Oversight Index, to enable a comparison of democratic oversight of intelligence services in different countries. The project also plans to create an online database of European case law pertaining to intelligence services, which will be useful to practitioners (those with oversight responsibility), members of civil society, and researchers alike. The project’s aims fall under the umbrella of reflecting upon transnational cooperation between intelligence services and empowering a transnational network of research and oversight. By combining practical and theoretical approaches, GUARDINT helps to institutionalize an emerging field of research, as well as contributing to wider societal engagement with the democratic oversight of intelligence.