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This report offers a review of laws regulating the collection of intelligence in the European Union (EU) and Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. This report updates a report on the same topic issued from 2014. Because issues of national security are under the jurisdiction of individual EU Member States and are regulated by domestic legislation, individual country surveys provide examples of how the European nations 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.

A comparative summary is included.

This report updates a report on the same topic issued from 2014.


The Law of 30 November 1998 Organizing the Intelligence and Security Services, as most recently amended in April 2016, establishes the general legislative framework within which Belgium’s intelligence agencies operate. Oversight of intelligence gathering is principally provided by an independent administrative commission. In addition to this administrative commission, the Belgian Parliament also oversees intelligence agencies through its Standing Intelligence Agencies Review Committee, which monitors and evaluates the legality of the methods used as well as their effectiveness.

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While a number of intelligence agencies operate in France, large-scale communications interception is carried out primarily by the Directorate General on Exterior Security under the Ministry of Defense, and the metadata collected is shared within the French intelligence network. All of the existing intelligence agencies were originally created by executive action. The adoption of the Law on Intelligence, promulgated in July 2015, establishes a coherent and comprehensive legislative framework to regulate the activities of the intelligence agencies.

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Germany maintains a strict separation between intelligence and law enforcement/police agencies. Intelligence agencies are therefore prohibited from using police powers to gather information. There are three intelligence agencies at the federal level, two of which focus on domestic intelligence, and the third focuses on foreign intelligence. The intelligence and law enforcement agencies may access, intercept, and request stored communications data, subject to limits specified in applicable laws. The intelligence agencies are subject to extensive administrative as well as parliamentary oversight, which includes several specialized parliamentary control panels but also general parliamentary oversight.

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Constitutional principles guarantee the protection of personal data in Portugal, including its collection and use, and the privacy of a person’s home and communications. An information system composed of intelligence services and supervisory bodies is in charge of producing intelligence for the purpose of defending national interests. European Union Directives have been transposed into the country’s domestic legal system to regulate the protection of personal data and privacy in the telecommunications and electronic communications sectors.

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Intelligence gathering in Romania is divided among several government agencies as provided in national security legislation. Constitutional principles guarantee the protection of privacy and personal data. Surveillance and intelligence gathering is conducted in accordance with national criminal procedural legislation. Control over intelligence activities by government agencies is exerted legislatively by the Parliament and through the judicial review of warrants for data collection issued by prosecutorial offices. The latter form of control, however, appears to be inefficient due to judicial weakness.

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Foreign intelligence gathering in the Netherlands is regulated chiefly by the Intelligence and Security Services Act 2002. The Act governs both the General Intelligence and Security Service and the Military Intelligence and Security Service, and requires that these Services obtain ministerial permission to exercise most of their powers, such as the power to institute surveillance and wiretaps and use intelligence agents. The Act has come under scrutiny in recent years, however, and there are plans to overhaul it, with expectations that draft legislation may be presented to the Dutch Parliament by the summer of 2016.

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Signal surveillance is regulated by Swedish law. Only the National Defense Radio Establishment may carry out surveillance and only on cross-border communications. Information may be requested by the government, the military, and the police. Sweden’s surveillance legislation has received widespread criticism, including from the European Parliament, on the grounds that it fails to adequately protect privacy and may violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Specific privacy protection regulations that pertain to surveillance information are in place.

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United Kingdom

Foreign intelligence gathering in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act, and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. These Acts provide for a system of warrants to be obtained to conduct surveillance and intercept communications, provided the surveillance is necessary to complete the statutory functions of the relevant agency. Issuing warrants in the UK remains an executive, rather than judicial, act. UK intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight.

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European Union

Electronic intelligence falls within the domain of the Member States of the European Union (EU), who have sole responsibility for safeguarding their internal security. Electronic surveillance conducted by national law enforcement authorities is inherently linked to the right to privacy and personal data protection. Such rights are enshrined in European Union treaties and secondary legislation as well as in Conventions adopted by the Council of Europe and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which binds EU Members. Aggrieved individuals, upon exhausting legal remedies at the national level, may bring their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for a final review.

This report describes the law and policy on refugees and other asylum seekers in 22 geographically dispersed countries and, at the supranational level, in the European Union. The individual surveys cover such topics as participation in relevant international conventions; laws and regulations governing the admission of refugees and handling refugee claims; processes for handling refugees arriving at the border;  procedures for evaluating whether an applicant is entitled to refugee status; the accommodations and assistance provided to refugees in the jurisdiction; requirements for naturalization; and whether asylum policy has been affected by international emergencies, such as the current refugee crisis in Europe.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020