Intelligence sharing without effective oversight in Romania

Intelligence sharing, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (via. Wikipedia) is “the ability to exchange intelligence, information, data, or knowledge among Federal, state, local or private-sector entities as appropriate.” To this US-centric definition, Wikipedia adds “Intelligence sharing also involves intergovernmental bilateral or multilateral agreements and through international organizations. Intelligence sharing is meant to facilitate the use of actionable intelligence to a broader range of decision-makers.”

In the real world, however, intelligence sharing is, most of the time, an opaque process that lacks effective oversight and control.

One example of a completely out-of-control intelligence sharing operation is revealed in Edward Snowden‘s leaks. In the leaks there are documents that shed light on the fact that the NSA has been collaborating with intelligence agencies from 33 other countries at the time of the leaks. Were all those agreements between the parties of this network established following transparent procedures by democratically elected bodies? Given the parties involved and what we’re about to find out below, the answer is most likely “No”.

In Romania, the intelligence services were flatly denying any intelligence sharing with the NSA: “There was never any secret accord or protocol or deal between SRI, as the national authority for communications investigations and the NSA” was what then SRI (Romanian Intelligence Service) director George Maior was claiming. At all debates on various privacy-shredding SRI-supported bills, whenever their authority was contested by reasons of them being a militarized and completely opaque organization that is beyond effective oversight, they were always defaulting back to the position that they are overseen by a democratically elected body, namely the parliamentary SRI oversight committee. Replies that the parliamentary intelligence oversight committees were less intelligence oversight committees and to a much larger degree intelligence cheerleading committees were falling on deaf ears.

But, to paraphrase the Buddha, “three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth”. At the end of 2017, as a result of a open letter to the Romanian parliamentary intelligence oversight committees which was sent by the Association for Technology and Internet and Privacy International, the SRI parliamentary oversight committee gave a much more candid answer than anybody was expecting.

We find out that the committee can ask for access on anything, and the service is compelled to respond, but only if it is not about “the documents, data and information related to intelligence activities concerning national security which are currently taking place or which will be taking place in the future, considered as such by the Committee, at the recommendation of the Supreme Defence Council, as well as the information which could lead to breaking of the cover of operatives, to the identification of sources, of concrete methods and means of work used in intelligence gathering, to the extent that these do not infringe on the Constitution and standing legislation.” This isn’t even that big of a revelation, given that this is an excerpt of the regulation outlining the authority of the intelligence oversight committees – which is little to none when it comes to relevant current activities of the intelligence services. But that is not all. We find out that “[…] concerning the access of the Committee’s members to relevant information regarding state intelligence sharing, given its purview and the concrete situations which came to the attention of the Committee, these informations can be obtained upon request and with the accord of the involved parties.” So oversight happens only if “the involved parties” agree.

Then we find out that “the Committee’s competences are exercised only in relation to the SRI, not in relation with the Government/State. As a consequence, there is no general mandate given to the Committee to perform an independent control of the intelligence sharing activities of the Government/State.” – so it seems that the SRI parliamentary oversight committee publicly states that the intelligence sharing activities of the SRI flat out lack any oversight whatsoever.

Finally, we find out that “Intelligence sharing between SRI and partner intelligence services from other countries are done according to the rules established through cooperation protocols between SRI and similar foreign organizations, while respecting established norms.” If the previous quote may have not been clear enough, this one puts the issue to rest, clearly stating that the terms of all intelligence sharing agreements entered by the SRI are are completely at the latitude of the SRI and their partners, without any oversight, democratic or otherwise apart from “respecting established norms”. They could have skipped the “respecting established norms” altogether and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

So it seems that all those “crazy” people complaining about the lack or oversight weren’t, in fact, paranoid. They were just reading between the lines correctly.

New Comparative Analysis on Internet Blocking: Focus on Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey

The world we live in gave us global Internet, universal right to freedom of expression, but also selective application of national laws to online space. When starting the analysis a few questions were set out as a reference point: Is modern Internet still the same as it was constructed by its founders? How much discretion should the governments enjoy when deciding on the limitations of Internet freedom? These and many other collateral questions are subject of heated discussions at all international forums related to Internet governance and human rights. And while answers are not there, Internet freedom is in danger for many years in a row. If proper actions won’t be taken by international community, we may witness even worse decline of freedom of expression in the upcoming years, and very likely in the countries that gave no alarm signals before. There is also a common misbelief that blocking is something possible and feasible in technologically advanced countries. We decided to check whether technological sophistication and censoring policies always go hand in hand, using the examples of Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.

The comparative analysis consistently unveils legal framework for Internet freedom, specifics of Internet blocking, statistics naming the most hostile governments, results of Internet freedom survey in Ukraine, as well as restrictive practices implemented in the region by Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey. It concludes with a number of recommendations addressed to the governments in order to ensure proper respect and protection for Internet freedom. 

Text is available in English and Ukrainian

The comparative analysis “Internet Blocking: Fragmenting Network & Violating Freedoms” was prepared by a non-governmental organisation “Digital Defenders Partners” (DDP) within the framework of the project “Securitization of Internet Freedom” implemented under the support of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).

Kezharovski: On Fake News, Hate Speech, State of Affairs in Macedonia, and Journalism

Opening remarks by Tomislav Kezharovski, journalist from Macedonia who had suffered political prosecution for his work, and is currently a fellow of Hamburg Foundation for Politically Persecuted People. This speech was given on 22 march 2017 at the session “The Faces of Free Expression” of the Second Regional Internet Freedom Summit in Struga, Macedonia.

Fake news are a wonderful tool for playing with people’s feelings.

Fake news are evil. Journalists ought to distance themselves from manipulative insidious tactics and should uncover those tactics. (more…)

Second Regional Internet Freedom Summit to take place in Macedonia

Next week, from 22 to 24 March, ABA ROLI will host the second Regional Internet Freedom Summit, organized in cooperation with the members of the Internet Freedom Platform of Eastern and Central Europe and Eurasia.

More than 120 Internet freedom experts and human rights activists from Europe and Eurasia will gather together in Struga, #Macedonia, to discuss the latest developments in online freedom of expression, privacy, and cybersecurity. (more…)

Take the first steps in understanding online and offline freedom of expression

ApTI together with the Internet Freedom Network partners under the Internet Freedom Program launched cases.internetfreedom.blog. It is a project with the purpose of teaching people about online and offline freedom of expression using the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence. The project is accompanied by a brochure which you can download in .pdf format.

The Internet significantly changed our lives in many respects, including the way we access published information. But, most importantly, it enhanced our exercising of our freedom of expression both by allowing easy access to sources of information and by the liberalization of publishing any kind of information. This transformed freedom of expression, especially online, into something everybody is interested in.

How did the project came to be

First, the subject seems to be of interest not just for professional journalists but for all types of Internet users with various educational backgrounds and, usually, little legal knowledge. Nevertheless, they are all involved in communication on the Internet and they sometimes claim that their freedom of expression is being infringed upon.

Secondly, the decision making process in regard to the freedom of expression seems frequently rushed, without enough time being dedicated to real public debate and evidence-based policymaking. This is particularly true in some countries in South-Eastern Europe. As a consequence, fragments from ECHR argumentations and conclusions can be used as widely accepted references and, thus, as useful tools in debates.

Thirdly, being faced with the huge flow of available information nowadays, many users are looking for summarized, easy to understand information in order to form and opinion.

On the project’s page you can find out what freedom of expression is, what its limits are and why it is sometimes restricted by governments.

freex

How to understand the project page and the brochure

The presented cases should be use only as a point of reference. The ECHR jurisprudence is always evolving, sometimes in self-contradictory ways. Sometimes it can be criticized because, sometimes, it can have disappointing results for supporters and advocates of the fundamental human right to the freedom of expression. Furthermore, the technological evolution of the Internet can change some fundamental assertions that today we hold as true.

The summarization of the current ECHR jurisprudence comes at a cost that needs to be mentioned. First, the information in this brochure in no way constitute legal advice. Secondly, the editors needed to limit the information they had in order to keep the brochure succinct enough, which is something that some legal professionals could consider as a limitation. Also, for brevity’s sake, we were forced to cover some important aspects only summarily, such as “hate speech” or “protection of journalistic sources”

Article by George Hari Popescu, ApTI Romania, original article in Romanian: https://apti.ro/freex-apti-ro-cazuri-cedo-libertate-exprimare-sectiune-brosura