Effective Oversight of Large-Scale Surveillance Activities: A Human Rights Perspective

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Effective Oversight of Large-Scale Surveillance Activities: A Human Rights Perspective

Daragh Murray, Pete Fussey, Lorna McGregor, and Maurice Sunkin explore the international human rights law implications of state surveillance.

Today, state surveillance involves the large-scale collection and analysis of digital data—activities which allow for widespread monitoring of citizens. And while commentary on the legality of these bulk surveillance regimes has focused on whether this routine surveillance is permissible, the European Court of Human Rights has recently held that, subject to appropriate safeguards, surveillance of this type is legitimate, and sometimes necessary, for national security purposes in a democratic society.

In their analysis, the authors outline the types of oversight mechanisms needed to make large-scale surveillance human rights compliant. To do so, they break down state surveillance into its constituent stages—authorization, oversight, and ex post facto review—and focus their attention on the first two stages of the process.

First, they argue that effective oversight of authorizations requires increasing data access and ensuring independent judicial review. Second, they argue that effective oversight of ongoing surveillance requires improving technical expertise and providing for long term supervision. The authors conclude that a “court-plus” model of judicial officers and non-judicial staff would deliver enhanced judicial qualities to authorizations while also providing continuous engagement through ongoing review and supervision.