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This report contains information on laws regulating the collection of intelligence in the European Union and selected European Union (EU) Member States.  It begins with a comprehensive overview of applicable EU legislation.  Because issues of national security are included in the jurisdiction of individual EU Member States and are regulated by domestic legislation, France, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, which are viewed as having mass surveillance operations, together with Portugal and Romania, are then surveyed to provide examples of how EU Members States control activities of their intelligence agencies and what restrictions are imposed on information collection.  All EU Member States follow EU legislation on personal data protection, which is a part of the common European Union responsibility.

It appears that all countries surveyed attempt to maintain a balance between law enforcement and national security needs on the one hand and rights to privacy and personal data protection on the other.  In all of the countries, intelligence functions are divided among general intelligence and security services, military and financial intelligence, and the police.  While in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Portugal intelligence agencies work according to principles established by a comprehensive statute, in Sweden and Romania individual laws address issues specifically for individual intelligence agencies, and in France the work of these agencies is primarily based on varied executive decisions.  This explains why most of the countries have no single legislative regime that applies to matters of surveillance, interception of communications, and privacy protection.

While the legislative institutions of the surveyed countries are involved in general oversight of their respective intelligence agencies, special government bodies for reviewing the legality of interception surveillance and privacy issues have also been created.  These special bodies focus on how information is stored, shared among security agencies within the country and abroad, destroyed, and made available to interested individuals.  Limitations on intelligence collection are established by national constitutions, criminal procedure laws, and special legislation, and are aimed at the general defense of rights and freedoms.  They include restrictions in terms of scope, duration, and subject matter of surveillance activities.  The use of special powers, including communications surveillance, require express permission from the Minister of Interior (Netherlands), issuance of a judicial order (Romania), or an approval warrant authorized by the Secretary of State (United Kingdom).  All national laws of the surveyed countries provide for special instruments to preserve personal data.  At the same time, because of gaps in legislation and the national legal systems’ weaknesses, these measures are not always effective in regard to privacy protection. 

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Last Updated: 06/09/2015