Spying Agreements Can Enable Countries to Bypass Domestic Privacy Protections

June 13, 2017

NEW YORK — The International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) today launched a global effort to uncover international information-sharing agreements between intelligence agencies in eight countries.

INCLO is comprised of independent, national human rights organizations from around the world. Eight of INCLO’s member organizations filed freedom of information requests today with their respective governments in an attempt learn more about how they work together on surveillance.

The U.S. member, the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA, CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, and the Director of National Intelligence.

The other countries where human rights groups filed requests are Argentina, Canada, the U.K., Hungary, Ireland, Russia, and South Africa.

The arrangements potentially allow intelligence agencies to sidestep domestic legal constraints by funnelling surveillance data into a transnational intelligence network. This is the first multinational coalition demanding that governments release information regarding agreements between intelligence agencies and answers about a practice largely shielded from accountability.

The ACLU’s FOIA request seeks records about, among other things, when the U.S. shares or requests foreign-intelligence surveillance data with another country, as well as any limitations on the requests and use of that information.

The revelations by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers have yielded crucial information about the mechanics of domestic state surveillance. They also revealed more about intelligence cooperation through the Five Eyes, the postwar surveillance alliance established between the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. However, surveillance regimes now operate on a global scale, extending far beyond Western democracies.

Very little is known about the Five Eyes and other information-sharing relationships between governments, including intelligence alliances in the Global South. By submitting requests for information in a geographically diverse array of states, INCLO hopes to expose these undisclosed alliances and learn more about their exact practice.

This action builds from INCLO’s report, “Surveillance and Democracy: Chilling Tales from Around the World,” released last year. Through personal accounts of citizens targeted by their own governments, the report illuminates surveillance apparatuses in the Global North and Global South as well as varying efforts for reform.

Public pushback has achieved significant progress in restoring transparency and re-establishing privacy norms in domestic contexts. However, information-sharing agreements remain a critical blind spot, potentially providing intelligence agencies a backdoor to evade legal safeguards and retain surveillance data. Today’s initiative is the first step to uncovering the extent of this threat.

INCLO hopes to support other organizations seeking to file FOI requests in order to build capacity and encourage further public inquiry.

The INCLO member organizations that filed requests today in addition to the ACLU are Liberty in the U.K., the International Human Rights Group Agora in Russia, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Citizen Initiative for the Control of Intelligence Services in Argentina, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.

Today’s FOI submissions and more information are available here:
http://inclo.net/international-intelligence-sharing-project.html

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