Challenging the Drivers of Surveillance

Powerful countries encourage and enable other governments to deploy advanced surveillance capabilities without adequate safeguards.


Countries with the largest defence and security sectors are transferring technology and practices to governments and agencies around the world, including to some of the most authoritarian countries in the world. China, European countries, Israel, the US, and Russia, are all major providers of such surveillance worldwide, as are multilateral organisations such as the European Union. 

It comes in five main forms:

  • Direct equipping of foreign intelligence and security forces
  • Training of foreign intelligence and security forces
  • Financing of their operations and procurement
  • Facilitating of exports of surveillance equipment by industry 
  • Promoting legislation which enables surveillance

What is the problem

Surveillance technologies and practices developed and used by the most advanced surveillance agencies in the world are being spread globally, including to countries which lack safeguards for their use. Without such safeguards, surveillance is being used to entrench political control, and used to spy on activists, journalists, dissidents and any opposition.   

These transfers of surveillance are driven by governments and institutions aiming to outsource the ongoing wars on migration, terror and drugs to other countries. 

These processes are sanctioned without the levels of transparency and oversight required, while the few formal mechanisms aimed at limiting abuses are wholly inadequate. This facilitates serious violations of human rights, reinforces authoritarianism, undermines governance, and drives corruption.

It also diverts money and other resources away from development and other aid, instead giving billions of dollars to security agencies and surveillance companies. 

What is the solution

Long-term security globally is best pursued by ensuring genuine democratic and accountable institutions and governments – something only possible through the fulfilment of privacy and other human rights. To do this, states and institutions must:

  • Stop the export of surveillance to those who use it to unlawfully spy on people and for political control
  • Ensure that any such surveillance which is exported complies with international human rights standards and is adequately governed by the legal framework in that country
  • Promote legislation and practices which provide safeguards and adequately govern the use of surveillance powers in countries around the world
  • Ensure that no resources are diverted from aid projects to be used for surveillance
  • Ensure there exist appropriate levels of transparency and accountability

What PI is doing

We are working to do three things:

  1. Bring greater transparency to such exports by governments through our research and investigations
  2. Raise awareness about the privacy implications of such assistance and articulate a set of safeguards and oversight measures that are consistent with international human rights standards to policy makers
  3. Ensure legislation and practice complies with international human rights standards, for example by ensuring that any surveillance capabilities that are provided are compliant with international human rights standards.